Stress, anxiety, exhaustion – it’s Pandemic Brain!

Dizzy, confused emoji“What’s wrong with me?”

More than one client has said that to me in the past few weeks.

“What’s wrong with me?”

One client is exhausted. Another is anxious – “for no reason.” And then there’s the lack of normal productivity, the difficulty thinking clearly, the unexpected challenge of making decisions.

“I’m really lucky. I have a good job. I’m healthy. Everyone in my family is healthy. What’s wrong with me?”

It’s pandemic brain…

The human body and brain aren’t designed for long-term, undifferentiated stress. We’re designed for short-term bursts of specific, situational, reactive energy – such as a saber-toothed tiger leaping out of the bush, or a car bearing down on us unexpectedly.

But long-term, undifferentiated stress is where we’ve been for the last nine or ten months, with no real end in sight.

It’s hard, even when we consider ourselves to be more fortunate than many others.

Struggle isn’t relative

My client was compounding their stress by blaming themself for feeling stressed.

Given the good job, good health, healthy family, they were convinced they should feel just fine.

Nope. The stress is real. The challenges of not being able to do the things we normally do is real. Can’t go to the gym. Can’t go to the movies. Can’t go out for a date. Can’t, can’t, can’t do all the things that keep us grounded, content, and even happy.

Just because you see others who appear to be in greater difficulty than you, doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. “Compare and despair” isn’t just about seeing people who are better off, and wondering why you’re not; it’s also about seeing people who might be worse off, and feeling bad because … you feel bad.

Stop it.

Emotional labor is hard work

Emotional labor is a real thing. It takes energy and it’s exhausting.

Your brain weighs only about three pounds. But it’s a greedy little organ: it gobbles up roughly 20% of the energy (food, calories) you take in each day (depending on how much physical activity you do).

Thinking through things. Feeling feelings. Managing your stress. Managing your team’s stress. Managing your boss’s stress. Managing your family’s stress.

It’s WORK. Hard work. As one client commented, it can be even harder work than physical exertion.

So yeah, you’re exhausted. It’s not imaginary, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’ve just been working REALLY HARD.

Stress is emotional labor, and emotional labor is Hard Work. Just because someone else might be having more problems than you are, doesn't mean you're not having problems. Give yourself a break!Click To Tweet

Give yourself a break

Breathe. Rest. Sleep. Eat well. Move. Drink your water.

Recognize that your team is going through this as well, even if they haven’t said anything about it. Give them a break. Acknowledge it. Name the elephant in the room: most people are wondering what’s WRONG with me? right now. Share this article with them.

We aren’t built to deal with this type of ongoing, long-term uncertainty and stress. Unfortunately, we have to deal with it anyway. So, do the best you can, and recognize this:

There is nothing wrong with you

Your feelings of anxiety and exhaustion are normal given these abnormal circumstances, and, yes, it will be over eventually – we just aren’t allowed to know when or how.

Breathe. Rest. Sleep. Eat well. Move. Drink your water.

And give yourself a hug. You’re doing great.

gljudson Professional empathy, Self-awareness