All things considered, things are going well. I’m fully vaccinated — so are most of my family, friends, and team. And, it’s been gorgeous outside.
However, I’m flat-out exhausted. Even after getting a good night’s rest, I don’t want to get out of bed. I also feel like I’m not as productive as I should be.
It turns out though that I’m not alone.
Get Rid of Brain Fog Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic
“I am taking a nap in between patients,” Dr. Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR. “I’m going to bed earlier. It’s hard to even just get out of bed. I don’t feel like being active again.”
Dr. Cyrus adds that exhaustion is one of the top complaints she’s heard from patients. Some have even said that they’ve been making mistakes at work and have been more irritable.
In the sweet vocal stylings of Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”
The short is that we’ve had a stressful and traumatic year. Some of us lost loved ones, battled the virus, or lost our income.
Even if you came out of the pandemic unscathed, it was still an abnormal year. We’ve had to adjust to working from home, endless Zoom meetings, and being cooped up.
There is a silver lining, however. And, that’s that previous research on trauma suggests that as we distance ourselves from the pandemic, our mental health will rebound.
“We know that the majority of people tend to be resilient,” says Lynn Bufka, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association. “They may have struggled during the time of the challenges but generally come out OK on the other end.”
Until then, here’s what else you can do to reduce your stress and sharpen your mind.
Rebuild your routine.
We, humans, love routines. They provide structure and certainty. And, it makes planning a whole lot easier.
Obviously, our routines have been disrupted over the last year. To make matters worse, a lot of our questions haven’t been answered. Examples include when we can return to the workplace or how long must we socially distant.
The good news? Even if your routine has been broken, you can get back on track by;
- Building up your resilience. You can do this by identifying your priorities and focusing on what you can control.
- Following your usual patterns. If you’re an early bird and usually being working by 8 a.m., keep that schedule if you can regardless if that’s in the office or at home.
- Scheduling habits into your life. Block out specific times in your calendar for routines that encourage healthy habits.
- Creating an optimal environment. Regardless of where you’re working, make sure that your workspace is inspiring and aligns with how you work best.
- Taking a rest day. Give your permission to take off from work to rest, recharge, and get your personal life in order.
- Being the tortoise. Be patient and ease your way back into your routine.
What if you’re having a tough time restarting? Don’t give up. Go back to square one and try again.
Make sleep a priority.
Stress and sleep have a two-way relationship. First, stress can lead to sleep loss. Usually, this is in the form of difficulty falling asleep, altered sleep architecture, nighttime waking, and nightmares. Second, loss of sleep increase stress.
If this is an issue, try out the following hacks to get the best sleep ever;
- Sticking to a regular sleep schedule based on your circadian rhythms.
- Enlisting the military method — which mainly consists of breathing and muscle relaxation.
- Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Creating an evening routine that lets you gradually power down.
- Eating a banana and not backlogging water.
- Wearing a pair of socks.
- Playing games in your head, like counting backward.
- Resolving your worries before bed by writing them down.
Don’t be a hermit.
Perhaps the biggest challenge throughout this whole thing has been not being to interact with others. Sure, there have been exceptions thanks to Zoom or staying in your bubble. But, it’s time to gradually step back out into the real world.
If you know people who are fully vaccinated, and you are as well, it’s safe to hang out together. You don’t necessarily have to overbook your calendar. But, maybe have dinner together with friends whom you haven’t seen in person in over a year.
Engage in positive self-talk.
“Self-talk is your inner voice or internal monologue,” explains Denna Ritchie in a previous Calendar article. “And, it’s often associated with your self-worth.”
Let’s say that you made a mistake at work. Your inner voice lets you know how much of a screw-up you are. That’s called negative self-talk and it can make you feel anxious and depressed.
To combat that, practice positive self-talk by;
- Building your mental strength by changing your inner dialogue.
- Having a failure mantra.
- Creating a “producer’s motto” instead of a “procrastinator’s motto.”
- Avoiding all-or-none” thinking.”
- Talking to yourself in the third person.
- Acknowledging the negativity, but also look for silver linings.
- Ditching the toxicity, like people who make you feel crummy.
And, treat yourself like how you would a friend. By that, I mean not talking down or hurting them. Instead, talk yourself up just like you would for them.
Try mindfulness exercises.
There’s a reason why people have been practicing mindfulness for centuries. It’s an effective way to protect us and keep us focused on the present. Research has even found that mindfulness reduces stress and changes the brain like being able to regulate our emotions.
Best of all? You can do mindfulness exercises whenever and wherever you want. And, it’s incredibly easy to practice if you just STOP;
- Slow down
- Take a breath
- Observe what you’re feeling
- Proceed by considering multiple possibilities
Divert your attention.
It’s not just you. Throughout the last year, the days have just blended together. For many of us, it’s actually been difficult tracking time — personally, there was a span during quarantine when I literally didn’t know what day it was.
If you haven’t done so yet, now it’s time to give yourself a break. If you’re able, consider taking a vacation. Even just going on a day trip can rejuvenate you.
If that’s not an option, then go on a staycation. Also, distract yourself by engaging in activities that you enjoy. Go for a walk with friends, get a massage, catch a baseball game, or just bask in the sun reading a book.
Research shows that writing in a gratitude journal can improve your mood and bolster your mental health.
“We can always find things to be grateful for,” says Dr. Jennifer Payne, director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins. “It’s springtime and the days are starting to be beautiful and the trees are blossoming, and really thinking about that and admiring the trees, for example, can make you feel really grateful.”
Make an appointment with a mental health professional.
Finally, if stress or brain fog from the last year is interfering with your daily life, don’t hesitate in seeking help. You can start by opening up to friends or family. But, you probably want to reach out to a trusted mental health professional.
If you feel like you don’t have time to make an appointment, teletherapy is a flexible option. As is online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace. Remember, you need to put your mental health first.
Image credit: nina uhlíková; pexels; thank you!
John Hall is the co-founder of Calendar a scheduling and time management app. He’s also a keynote speaker that you can book at http://www.johnhallspeaking.com.