Psychology-backed tips to help you deal with long-term stress and uncertainty.
It feels like we’ve been in crisis mode since years.
- At the end of 2019, protests broke out in India over CAA-NRC
- In the first quarter of 2020, the world went into lockdown due to the pandemic
- Then came the distress caused by the great migration of laborers, who fled the cities and made the long walk home.
- Student activists were arrested. Farmer protest broke out.
- Border skirmishes broke out at the India-China border.
- As if this wasn’t enough, all hell broke lose with the second wave of the pandemic in India in the first quarter of 2021.
These are just some of the crises that have rocked India since the last couple of years. There have been many more protests and injustices on a global scale.
The Black Lives Matter protests. The Israel-Palestine conflict.
Any which way you look at it, we’ve been in crisis mode since years. And chances are, crisis fatigue has started to take a serious toll on our mental health.
What is crisis fatigue?
When you experience any stressful event, your body automatically goes into a fight, flight or freeze response. This causes instant hormonal and physiological changes in your body, which allows you to take quick action for your own safety. It’s also called survival instinct, a legacy of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who survived in the wilderness because of this response.
While we may no longer be facing sabre tooth tigers when we are out hunting for our food, the fight, flight or freeze response is triggered every time we experience a stressful situation. Imagine that you misplace your wallet. Your mind will go into overdrive, trying to think of where you last saw it, running through the list of ID cards you may have had in your wallet, all the calls you will need to make to block your credit cards and bank accounts. Meanwhile, your heart will start palpitating at the thought of all the money that was lying in your wallet, which you’re not likely to see again. Your body will go into auto-mode, as you race to the last place you remember using your wallet to see if maybe, by some miracle, you will find it there.
Once this crisis passes, your hormone levels should reduce and your heart rate come back to normal. But in times like these – or any time when you experience multiple stressful situations over a long period of time – your body will think it’s in a state of constant threat, and those hormones will continue to surge.
The fact is, we aren’t designed to handle such a sustained onslaught of stress.
Do you have crisis fatigue?
We all cope with stress in different ways. But there are some signs and symptoms that point to crisis fatigue.
According to Arianna Galligher, associate director of Ohio State University’s Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program, it’s natural for people to feel a mixture of exhaustion, rage, disgust, despair, desperation, hypervigilance, anxiety, and grief. As the crises have worn on, many people are also feeling less energetic and motivated. Zoom fatigue has become a real thing, and a lot of people are having trouble with simply remaining functional.
Other symptoms include include forgetfulness and inability to focus on anything; lethargy; fatigue; heightened anxiety and racing thoughts; anger and moodiness; feeling easily frustrated or overwhelmed; inability to enjoy the small things; changes in eating patterns; insomnia; social withdrawal; and procrastination. For a full list of symptoms, read this article on The Well.
5 tips to cope with crisis fatigue
So how can we pull through such times with our sanity intact? Here are 5 tips, backed by psychologists.
1. Take a break: Take some time off work and allow yourself to rest. Try to stay away from the news and turn your phone on silent if you can. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish – its an important act of self-preservation.
2. Disconnect: Reduce screen time. Doomscrolling on social media or constantly refreshing the news isn’t doing you any good. Not only does it contribute to a sense of helplessness, it also triggers the adrenal glands in your brain as part of the fight or flight response. Trigger those glands too often, and it could lead to adrenal fatigue, which in turn causes body aches, fatigue, sleep disturbances and digestive problems.
3. Create a routine: being cooped up at home all day can make the days feel like they’re running together. Building regular daily or weekly routines can help you to create some structure around your days. You can also try to switch things up by changing where you work. If you can’t move to a different spot in your home, try to change up the decor around you – this can be as simple as bringing in a vase of flowers, or changing the pen stand on your table.
4. Find joy and hope: In the middle of turmoil, make it an active practice to decide to find joy. Go for a walk if you can, listen to your favorite music, play with your pets or children, pursue a hobby. It can be easier said than done, and you may have to force yourself to show up a few times. But it gets easier, the more you go looking for small moments of joy. You can also try this expressive arts exercise any time that you’re feeling overwhelmed.
5. Ask for help: If you’re finding it difficult to cope with every day things like work, relationships, or your capacity to take care of yourself, seek professional help immediately. You may also find it helpful to sign up for a support group. You can find both therapists and support groups, as well as a wealth of mental health resources on The Mind Clan.
I hope that you found some of these tips and resources helpful.
How have you been coping with these uncertain times? Do leave your stories and tips in the comments – it may be just the thing that someone else needs to hear!
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