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Self-compassion is key to overcoming pandemic fatigue

Are you exhausted from operating in a state of pandemic uncertainty? If so, you aren't alone. A year of stress and social isolation has many people experiencing fatigue from the redundancy and limits on their lives. 

But with spring in full swing and vaccine distribution progressing, we're seeing a potential end to the pandemic and return to normalcy. BeWell Stanford spoke with Sarah Meyer Tapia, associate director of Wellness Education in the Division of Health & Human Performance at Stanford, about regaining your energy and becoming reinvigorated.

Practice self-compassion: Your pandemic experiences may have left you with different energy levels than you had before. Some people who can work from home might feel they've been more productive, while others might be unmotivated and feeling guilty for accomplishing less.

No matter where you fall in the spectrum, be compassionate with yourself when your energy level is low, rather than trying to nudge yourself forward with your harsh inner critic. Treat yourself the way you would your best friend -- you wouldn't blame them for how they are feeling or pressure them to do more.

It's OK to rest and recharge

Rest when you feel depleted: The pandemic has caused a heightened awareness of harm, forcing the nervous system to operate on overdrive. To regenerate, you need relaxation, along with healthy activities that help you feel safe and restore a sense of ease.

Activities like yoga or cooking may help you manage your mood when you're burned out, giving you a break from ongoing responsibilities.

"There's such a fear of pausing and taking care in a more passive way," Tapia said. "You may feel the need to justify your rest, when really that's what bolsters you to do more and be better. Think of rest as your fuel for performing in work and life."

Do what makes you feel alive: Try to make space in your life for the activities that invigorate you. Maybe you feel most alive when you're in nature, moving your body, doing something creative, working on a project or spending time with loved ones. By doing the things you naturally love to do, you cultivate the stamina to endure those less exciting, or even burdensome, parts of life. 

While genetics and life circumstances can impact your energy level, lifestyle habits also play a big role, but unlike genetics and circumstances, habits are mostly within your control.

Focus on sleep: The pandemic has led to stressful circumstances can cause nighttime wakefulness. Consider taking a 20-minute midday nap or doing something relaxing before bed, like taking a bath or meditating. Most importantly, don't stress over your sleep, and try to trust your body's natural ability to rest when needed.

Balance your social needs and solitary time: Consider whether you're extroverted or introverted. Some people gain energy from social connections and others from quiet solitude. Depending on those preferences, you may be getting too much or too little social time. If you're short on "me-time," try to carve out quiet time for yourself. If you're seeking more connection, consider social activities in which you can safely engage -- even talking on the phone can help.

Be active, but do it at your own pace

Make time for exercise: Physical activity, especially in the morning, creates a naturally invigorating state in the mind and body that can help you gain stamina for the day. Even a 10-minute walk or workout in the morning can change your outlook and boost your energy reserve.

Even so, there is nothing wrong with you if you have not exercised, connected with others or even gotten dressed today. Now is also a perfect time to seek the support you need from a coach, therapist, nutritionist or personal trainer, or to have bigger conversations with friends and family about restructuring your life to prioritize the habits that matter to you.

Aim for acceptance: Try not to compare your energy level to others or to how you used to feel at a different point in time. If you're exhausted, give yourself a break and remember that this feeling will not last forever.

"Energy is dynamic, and high points and low points are normal and natural. ...  Aim to enjoy the excitement and productivity of the upswings, and the peace and ease of the low points," Tapia said.

This post originally appeared on BeWell Stanford in a longer form.

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