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Sara’s Diary, Day 68 without baseball: Exhaustion

The pandemic disrupts everything, even rest

A woman yawns from fatigue
Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s been raining for days, the monotony of the pandemic or something else, but I’ve been exhausted for days. This is not a normal type of tired. The fatigue I’ve been experiencing generally only occurs in the darkest depths of winter. It tends to break once the sun and baseball return.

Enter stage right 2020, where despite a bit of sun here and there, this year spring flowers are emerging through an almost unprecedented amount of rain. Despite beautiful sunny days here and there (and they do help) cloud cover blankets Chicago, baseball seems to be at an impasse in terms of negotiating a start to the season and my body feels like it’s been hit with the weight of a dozen Decembers.

Every time I feel something unique, particularly a symptom like fatigue, I tend to go down the same rabbit hole. Initially I’m worried the symptoms could be the novel coronavirus, even though I’ve been as careful as I feel I can be to avoid exposure. Once I’ve decided I probably don’t have COVID-19, I start to search for evidence they are related to the pandemic. It didn’t take long to find out I’m not the only person suffering from exhaustion during these times, from The Sleep Foundation:

Social distancing, school closures, quarantines, working-from-home: all bring profound changes to normal routines for people of all ages and walks of life.

It can be difficult to adjust to a new daily schedule or lack of a schedule.

Keeping track of the time, and even the day, can be hard without typical time “anchors” like dropping kids at school, arriving at the office, attending recurring social events, or going to the gym.

Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers, which are crucial to our circadian rhythm.

If you are not working at the moment or your weekly hours have been decreased due to COVID-19, you may be tempted to oversleep each morning. Sleeping more than seven to eight hours per night can make waking up on time much more difficult, even if you use an alarm. Oversleepers may also feel groggy, irritable and unfocused throughout the day.

While there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing I’m not alone, there is substantially less comfort in the unknown. I tend to stay up too late worrying rather than oversleeping. Oh look! The Sleep Foundation has an explanation for that, too:

There’s still so much unknown about this pandemic — how much the disease will spread, whether hospitals can manage the crisis, how long lockdowns will last, when the economy can recover — and such uncertainty often brings anxiety that disrupts sleep as a racing mind keeps the body tossing and turning.

I’ve been working on a project I’ve done some version of every year for over a decade. It is something I know well and should be able to do quickly and efficiently. As I’ve been reading through research more slowly than I ever imagined possible the last couple of days it’s been easy to get frustrated with myself. It’s been a lot harder to take a deep breath, make a cup of tea and continue on just accepting I’m moving more slowly for a bit.

It is worth remembering that we are all dealing with something unprecedented here. Our bodies and minds are coping the best way they know how, but honestly it’s a tremendous amount of stress with no end in sight. Whether you or someone you love is dealing with exhaustion now or later in the pandemic, we need to all be gentle with ourselves. Some days and projects are just going to be very difficult, and that is okay.