I first came across the term “hitting the wall” when I was training to run marathons. Most marathon runners are familiar with the feeling, often close to the end of the marathon, of being so exhausted that it feels utterly impossible to take one more step. Despite already having run 20, 30, 35 and even 40km, they have given it their all, they have no energy left to keep going. All they want to do is give up and curl into a ball of pain right there beside the road.
It will soon be a year since the pandemic started. The first lockdown here in France started on the 17th of March. I have noticed that many people around me, myself included, now seem to suffer from “pandemic fatigue,” for the lack of a better term to describe our current mental state. The unyielding lowgrade stress, with intermittent flare-up’s of acute stress, has taken its toll. We have come to the end of our endurance.
We are facing, and some of us already suffer from, “pandemic burn-out.”
This is significant because here in the south of France, people are generally remarkably resistant to stress.
When marathoners hit the wall, it means they have depleted their glycogen stores. I think that hitting the pandemic wall is more about adrenalin flooding our bodies for too long. Usually, when we face a stressful situation, our bodies release adrenalin to enable us to fight/flee. Once we have coped with the treat, our adrenalin levels go down and our bodies have time to rest and restore themselves.
Since the start of the pandemic, adrenalin is being pumped through our bodies at rates we haven’t had to contend with before. Our usual stress management strategies are not available to us anymore: attending the gym, enjoying a meal out with friends, visiting close family, going on holiday etc. We fall back on undesirable coping skills like eating too much, drinking too much, binging on Netflix, spending too much money online and taking drugs.
Our support systems disappear as our relationships disintegrate because we have to spend every waking hour confined in a small space with the same people. People who live on their own suffer from touch deprivation. No wonder the suicide rate is soaring.
It’s normal for burnout to occur after a period of chronic stress. The very nature of the pandemic, the uncertainty and insecurity it generates, causes out emotional endurance to dwindle over time. Even the most resilient people are starting to find it difficult to cope.
Is there anything we can do to prevent the damage that this relentless stress is doing to our bodies and our minds?
More in the next Savoir Vivre Vignette.
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