At the time of writing this article, we’ve been 5 months into the COVID-19 pandemic since it was declared by the WHO. Have you felt your stress levels rise in this period? Maybe your anxiety too? Have you been experiencing frequent emotional outbursts? Chances are you’re suffering from “Lockdown Fatigue.” Lockdown fatigue is more of a mental fatigue and exhaustion as opposed to physical fatigue, caused by the psychological aspects of lockdown. This can be appropriately explained by the following analogy – Just as a hiker, after a long and strenuous trek up a steep hill, against gravity, feels physically exhausted, when a person is constantly trekking against the various psychological stressors such as fear and loneliness, they eventually end up mentally exhausted.
Majority of Indians Are Stressed Due to the Pandemic
Here’s the thing, you’re not alone in feeling this way. In fact you’re one of the majority of our country’s inhabitants who’re going through the same struggles. That’s what YourDOST’s recent study titled “Mental Health Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic & Nationwide Lockdown in India” found.
According to this, ⅓ rd of Indians reported experiencing high stress when the nationwide lockdown had just started. However,over the approximately two month period starting from lockdown 1.0 on 25th March, 2020 to unlock 1.0 on 7th June, 2020, over 55% of Indians reported an increase in their stress levels.
The aspect of lockdown fatigue is not just limited to stress levels. India’s inhabitants have also reported a significant deterioration in feelings of anxiety, anger and loneliness.
So what exactly is the cause of this fatigue? According to the study, there are 3 major causes of stress.
Fall in work-life balance
The contributing factor towards this include prolonged work-from-home which leaves many individuals feeling like they’re in an “always on” mode. Additionally, the lockdown led to a drastic change in most people’s lifestyles and routines. Many continue to struggle to maintain a proper routine in the modest of these circumstances. Multiple studies have shown that poor work-life balance can directly impact people’s mental health and can also adversely affect the prevention and management of mental illness. This makes this trend all the more worrying.
Postponement of exams
These were mainly college students whose colleges were shut down due to the nationwide lockdown and thus there continues to be a lack of clarity on when and how their exams will be conducted. Exams in general are tremendously stressful. According to an earlier study conducted by YourDOST among Indian college students, 60% report experiencing high to severe stress from exams. The pandemic added an additional element of uncertainty to this whole situation which of course has been tremendously distressing for individuals.
Pay cut/Job loss
At YourDOST we experienced an 87% rise in the number of sessions related to job loss in the period of March to June 2020 as opposed to the same time frame in the preceding months.
Losing a job can be a very traumatic experience for many. According to a review of over 4000 research papers, conducted by the University of East Anglia and the “What Works Centre for Wellbeing”, losing a job may even take longer to get over emotionally than a divorce or the death of a partner.
Pay cuts were another major cause of stress.
This adds all the more uncertainty with individuals’ personal finances and affordability affected directly.
Impact on Lifestyle
Lockdown fatigue has significantly impacted the lifestyles of most Indians.
Deterioration of Sleep Quality
For most people, their sleep quality has experienced significant deterioration with a net change upto 11%. A major reason for this is a lack of exposure to sunlight. Lockdown and the fear of contracting COVID-19 have forced most of us to spend the majority of our days indoors. Infact, the study found that even in areas where lockdown has been lifted, 90% of the people are unwilling to venture out. This means that their exposure to sunlight has gone down as well. Sunlight plays a major role in setting and resetting our “Circadian Rhythm”. This is our “body clock” that helps us maintain our sleep-wake schedule. Reduction in exposure to sunlight can severely disrupt this rhythm thus leading insomnia.
Another reason for the deterioration of sleep quality is stress. Chronic stress causes our minds to be in a heightened state of alertness. This delays the onset of sleep and causes rapid, anxious thoughts to occur at night. Also, Insufficient sleep causes further stress.
Rise in Emotional Outbursts
Most Indians have also experienced a drastic increase in emotional outbursts. These outbursts occur in the form of angry outbursts or crying fits.
From a psychological point of view, this too is expected. Studies have shown that it’s common to experience a failure of cognitive emotion regulation especially when it comes to unpleasant emotions under stress. The reason for this is that cognitive emotion regulation is controlled by our brain’s prefrontal cortex. When we’re stressed, stress-related neuroendocrine hormones tend to impair the prefrontal cortex thus affecting cognitive emotion regulation which consequently leads to emotional outbursts.
Let’s Fight Back
Given the onset of lockdown fatigue, it’s clear that the commonly used coping strategies have proved inadequate, thus leading to impairment in different areas of our life. There is thus an urgent need to adopt a holistic management strategy to ensure the Indian population’s overall mental wellness. Depending on the level of functional impairment of each individual, self-care, peer-support and professional-care interventions would be effective.
To access resources for self-help during this pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 emotional wellness page for FREE resources.
Would you like to read the full report of YourDOST’s study on “Mental Health Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic & Nationwide Lockdown in India”? Click here to download your copy today.