With all of my “Extra Time” how am I possibly so exhausted? A psychological explanation:
Author: Jessica Dattalo, LCSW Edited: Julie Raymond, LCPC
When many of us learned of the closures, those of us who were lucky enough not to be worried about our own health or the health of our loved ones or patients, and not to be worrying about an unexpected and drastic change in income, we thought about all the projects we could complete. All the things that we wanted to do, but simply didn’t have the time for during the rat race of normal life. Now - a few weeks into mandated quarantine, we may be beating ourselves up, soaking in self-loathing and self-blame wondering why we can’t find the energy to complete these projects. To become the best versions of ourselves.
To explain, let’s take a brief look at one of the very first things we learn in our Psychology 101 courses. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s theory suggests that humans start at the bottom of the pyramid. Once the physiological needs are met, we move on to seeking the safety needs, to the love/belonging needs, all the way up to the needs of Esteem and Self-Actualization.
Many of us have had the privilege to live the majority of our lives in the top three levels. It may, even subconsciously, come as a shock to our bodies and minds right now. Why aren’t we easily making moral decisions? Why aren’t we creating beautiful works of art? Why aren’t we having clever and spontaneous Tik Tok videos and game nights? Why are we fighting so hard against what we don’t want to accept?
We are trying to jump to the top of the pyramid, when, for the first time, our basic physiological needs may not be met. Our entire lives are shaken outside of normal homeostasis. We can’t depend on access to breathing when we are continuously reminded that shortness of breath is a potentially deadly symptom of a virus sweeping the nation. We can’t depend on food when we are nervous about going to the grocery store and possibly catching said virus - let alone, when we do make it there that the foods we are used to eating will be on the shelves. When it comes to our need of safety - we are reminded every minute of every day that we run the RISK of not being safe and that our loved ones run the RISK of not being safe.
You can’t jump to the top of the pyramid when the needs below are not being met. Give yourself some grace. Recognize and honor where you are. We have all experienced traumas before. From big, atrocious traumatic events to smaller manageable stressors and inconveniences. We will experience them again. Trauma is simply defined as experiencing a “loss of power and control”. We are living in a time with no power and no control. No certainty. No guaranteed safety. No answers. Whether we recognize it or not, we are in constate states of our stress cortisol’s “Flight or Fight” adrenaline response. Every time we turn on the news, look at facebook, look at instagram, have a thought about a family member or loved one experiencing or who could experience symptoms, look into our depleted pantries, glance out our windows at the sun we wish we were feeling, use the restrooms and wash our hands for an excruciatingly long 20 seconds, stress about the risk of going into work, stress about figuring out the technology of working remotely, stress about the guilt we have that we have jobs, stress about the terrible nationwide loss of jobs, we are reminded how powerless and out of control we are. The adrenaline spikes. This exhausts our minds and bodies.
It is okay to not be thriving right now. You are simply surviving. And you maybe have never existed in survival mode for this extended length of time before. Be kind. To yourself. To others. Relieve the pressure. You are doing all that you can do. Your body and mind needs more rest than it is used to. They are experiencing something they may have never experienced before, for an extended period of time, so give yourself the space to rest.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Act on the moments of inspiration. Respect, honor and listen to the moments of fatigue and exhaustion. Practice gratitude when you can. Stop blaming yourself when you can’t. Every day is going to be different. It is for all of us. Ride the wave. I’ll see you on the other side.