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01.12.21 | Community

Feeling Exhausted? The Science Behind Pandemic Burnout

As part of our 9 Ways of Vibrant Living, we at Sage Collective advocate for stress reduction. We recognize stress as a natural, regular occurrence and aim to help our followers learn to manage, to control and to minimize stress.

But we’ll be the first to admit that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (in March of what’s officially become last year), stress levels have been higher than ever. If you’ve been feeling excessively stressed, burnt out and unable to focus — you’re not alone. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the science behind pandemic-related stress and burnout. 

There’s a reason everyone’s been referring to COVID-19 as “unprecedented.” We’ve never experienced anything quite like this in our lives. Worrying about a global pandemic, public health and safety, our personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we love, not to mention financial concerns, food security struggles and more — it’s an inordinate amount of stress for human beings to take on all at once. And the demand of feeling all these things at once is taking a toll on our bodies.

Allostatic load demonstrated visually
Allostatic load demonstrated visually

Allostatic load refers to the impact of cumulative wear and tear — the impact of carrying all that stress, for example. And allostatic overload refers to the point at which the demand of our stress overtakes the capability of our mind and body to keep up. As demonstrated above, we can look at our allostatic load as a bell curve. Too little stimulation from stress, we’ll be underloaded, understimulated and stagnant as  human beings. But too much stimulation from stress, and we’ll be overloaded, overstimulated and exhausted to the point of burnout.

Many of us are in the throes of allostatic overload. Our bodies have been constantly perceiving a potential threat, and therefore they’ve been producing hormones like adrenaline and cortisone, handy responses to temporary stressors.  However, in the case of a prolonged stressor such as the pandemic, our bodies continually overload themselves with these hormones, which are actually toxic to our physiological systems. 

So your feelings of stress, exhaustion and burnout — they’re only natural. But acknowledging the reality of the problem is only half the battle. How do we even begin to combat burnout and fatigue? 

First, self care is absolutely crucial. Prioritize taking care of your body through healthy habits like regular exercise, healthy diet and getting your best night’s sleep. Prioritize taking care of your mind, too, by making time to practice gratitude and indulge in doing things you love. And secondly, be mindful to take care of others, too. Finding ways to safely connect with friends, family and community will serve as a reminder that you’re not alone — we’re all in this together.

An older African American adult steps aside to take off his mask for a moment
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