Burnt out and running on empty? Cut yourself some slack

If you’ve struggled to get through the last days of the year and felt a bit numb and exhausted over the festivities, it’s frankly no wonder. Because let’s not forget the many pressures we have lived under through various lockdowns over the last 20 months – the worry, the isolation, the stress of home schooling, potential loss of income, and all the many related pressures that have left us burnt out and running on empty.

Says Chrissy Reeves, psychotherapist “This pandemic has been like nothing we’ve ever known before. And not knowing when it’s going to end, or whether it’s going to happen again, triggers that fight or flight reaction in our brain. We’ve lived in a state of panic and that really is not good for us. It means our energy is running on on high all the time, and we can get really tired and burnt out, even though we look like we’re not doing very much. It’s an exhausting position for anyone to be in.

It’s a spiralling feeling of getting out of control. Not knowing how long these things are going on for can mean we catastrophize, we can find ourselves forever searching for answers, and of course they’re not coming, or not readily available because we still don’t really know where we’re at with all of this, and don’t know what’s going to happen next. So a lot of people are still in a very highly anxious state, or are just getting on with it, really.

Growing numbers of people are experiencing mental health issues for the first time. Of course some people are predisposed to anxiety, depression and other pychological symptoms. But without this real world change would the symptoms have ever come to a head? Maybe not.

In some respects it’s like we’re all living through a trauma that you could compare to a world war. That may feel a bit extreme, but, you know, people who were living through that were living in a state of not knowing what was coming, of fight or flight, where they didn’t quite know what to do next, so it feels similar in that respect. And the not knowing is traumatic, and it’s hard learning to live with that as we humans like to be in control – we like knowledge and information. And, you know, the more information we get at this point, it feels like the less we know in a way,

For many people this stressful event has triggered or exacerbated their mental health issues. Anxiety is high. Some people are natural worriers and this kind of ongoing traumatic event may have brought those feelings to a head.

Symptoms that your mental health is under stress include poor sleep, reduced appetite, feeling lethargic, feeling tired all the time or the opposite – sleeping all the time. You may feel angry and irritable, and withdraw from usual activities.. Another sign is over reliance on alcohol, food or other addictive behaviour behaviours, due to boredom, anxiety and a need for comfort. You may feel over-energised and unable to switch off, with racing thoughts. Or there may be a dulling of activity in the brain”.

So if you’ve been experiencing any of the above for a while now, we hope you’ve had a proper break over the festive period. And in the New Year look at ways to improve your mental health – exercise, a good diet, meditation, sharing your feelings with your nearest and dearest – and potentially seeking the help of a therapist or counsellor.

Words: Marina Gask

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