• Audrey Tang

Crisis fatigue and ways to manage

This article was adapted for Happiful Magazine


“Crisis Fatigue” may be defined as a feeling of exhaustion or a “burnout response” to prolonged exposure to adversity. It is certainly clear that the last 18 months plus have been anything but easy for all of us.


"Burnout" may be defined in practical terms as an exhaustion response to constant pressures internally and externally, and symptoms may present in different ways for example:


Psychologically

Ø feeling (or reacting) more irritable than usual?

Ø being very tired – or notice you aren’t sleeping as well as previously?

Ø being more tearful than usual (which cannot be explained by anything else)

Ø experiencing an inability to focus or “zoning out” more?


Socially

Ø although you are struggling you find it difficult to express why to anyone?

Ø a change in eating habits – eating or drinking more or less than usual- and if eating more - often of high calorie items

Ø refusing invitations, or alternatively going to all of them and perhaps over indulging in a noticeable manner (that differs from usual behaviour)


Behaviourally

Ø stopped caring about your appearance (including things like not showering)

Ø noticed changes in posture eg – are you slumping more than usual, do you feel like you are avoiding being seen?

Physiologically

Ø feeling “under the weather” more often than usual?

Ø other signs indicative of potential physical health issues?


If you have noticed any of the above to the point where it is interfering with your day-to-day life or recognised them in loved ones – stop and ask “are you/am I really ok?”. While all of these signs may be indicators of other issues, they are also commonly related to stress, often because one of the first things to be affected is the sleep pattern – which in turn may have further repercussions on concentration, interactions and ability to perform to the standards you would want.


Individual steps we can take

Professional intervention will offer many different techniques, and admittedly, in some cases many things can be beyond our control, but here are a few practical tools which can be used as a compliment to traditional interventions – and may even bring enough individual agency to create a slight buffer, to the stressors currently being experienced.

1. Recognise feelings of stress before they reach burnout:

· A nice exercise to get into the habit of trying is the “body scan” – this can be done before you settle down to sleep or before you wake up and that is relaxing each part of your body from your head to your toes and reflecting on how it feels – recognising if there is any tension. Some people also do this by tensing and relaxing their muscles as this can help them recognise the difference between the two.


· Another exercise is to take yourself though different emotional scenarios with an "emotion scan"eg:

o Anger

o Happy

o Sadness

o Surprise

o Fear

o Feeling loved

(always end on a positive one) and see if you can recognise where you experience those emotions – this might in turn help you in a day-to-day basis if something “feels off” – you might be able to work out what the emotion is, and in turn identify the root.

And if you are feeling depressed, or anxious, try to avoid using smiling or dismissive (eg “I’m fine”) behaviour to cope – it is important to acknowledge your feelings and accept that you are not “strange” or “a burden” or “just being silly” stress, depression and anxiety are very real, and further to which, even if you are not at the point of diagnosis, view the negative emotions you are experiencing as a warning (like a petrol light) – that something needs to be done.


2. Practical ways to build emotional and mental fitness:

a) Remember that your physical health can affect your mental wellbeing. Eat, sleep and exercise – getting the blood pumping can help clear your mind. Over-indulgence can result in feeling of guilt and perhaps excess weight which can then be an additional issue to feelings of loneliness in lockdown. But undereating and a lack of sleep can also result in a lack of ability to focus or feelings of anxiety which also may not help you in forming positive connections. Simply getting out (while dressed suitably for the weather!) can help you get more Vitamin D which can increase feelings of happiness and counter things such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – often exacerbating feelings of loneliness in the winter months), and fresh air is also good for us. BUT also remember that while there really is magic in the (fresh) air, you need to experience it regularly to see lasting changes...much like any treatment where you work at addressing the root causes rather than the symptoms alone!

b) Build a “positivity reservoir”

- Having photos of moments you love (including "thank yous" from clients) in a screen shot album to remind you you’ve made a difference

- Checking in regularly with good friends (whether by phone or a funny text)

- Laughing - a lot (there's no harm in cat videos, as long as you don't spend all day watching them)

- Positive affirmations (on post-its or on your phone)

- Gratitude first and last - Think about something you’re grateful for before you sleep, and when you wake up eg: I'm always grateful for how lovely my bed feels!


c) DON’T cause yourself extra worries by thinking I MUST do something…doing NOTHING is recharging!!

If we are exhausted, we simply need to stop – and the only way we can do that effectively is by switching off, and not spending the energy we are saving on feeling guilty!

- Resist the temptation to do any DIY

- Resist the temptation to start any new projects

- Resist the temptation to do favours for others, just to “be busy”


(What can help with this is taking a mini-break from social media…because then, who do you need to prove anything to!?)



Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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