Are you suffering from crisis fatigue?

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Unfortunately, as much as we may want to believe we are invincible, we all have a level of stress up to which we can tolerate. Beyond this, the mind may just about be willing, but the body is not.

Think of it like an elastic band: continue to stretch it and at some point, it may snap or go flaccid and cease to function – this is known as ‘exhaustion’. Crisis fatigue may be defined as a feeling of exhaustion or a burnout response to prolonged exposure to adversity.

It is clear that the past 18 months have been anything but easy for all of us, with challenge after challenge, and countless personal and emotional tests – so you may well have felt yourself stretched to breaking point, much like that elastic band. From coping with our lives and routines being uprooted by the pandemic, to financial stress, and working harder than ever in both our professional and personal lives to bridge that gap of the physical divide. Could you be suffering from symptoms of exhaustion/burnout due to ‘crisis fatigue’? Try the following self-reflection audit to really consider how you’ve been feeling and coping.

Psychological reflections:

In the past month, have you…
☐ Felt (or reacted) more irritable than usual?
☐ Been very tired – or noticed you aren’t sleeping as well as before?
☐ Been more tearful than usual (which cannot be explained by anything else)
☐ Experienced an inability to focus, or ‘zoned out’ more?

Social reflections:

In the past month, have you…
☐ Found it difficult to express why you’re struggling to anyone?
☐ Noticed a change in eating habits – eating or drinking more or less than usual (and if eating more, often high calorie items)?
☐ Refused invitations, or alternatively going to all of them and perhaps overindulging in a noticeable manner (that differs from your usual behaviour)?

Behavioural reflections:

In the past month, have you…
☐ Stopped caring about your appearance (including not doing things like showering)?
☐ Noticed any changes in posture, such as slumping more than usual, or do you feel like you are avoiding being seen?

Biological reflections:

In the past month, have you…
☐ Felt ‘under the weather’ more often than usual?
☐ Had any other signs indicative of potential physical health issues?

If you have noticed any of these signs to the point where it is interfering with your day-to-day life, or recognised them in loved ones, stop and ask: “Are you/am I really OK?” While all of these signs can be indicators of other issues, they are also commonly related to stress, often because one of the first things to be affected is our sleep pattern. This, in turn, may have further repercussions on concentration, interactions, and your ability to perform to the standards you would want.

It’s always best to seek help before the point of crisis, or prior to it being taken out of your hands because you’re no longer able to cope. Once you seek help, there will be other techniques given to you by professionals, but here are a few practical tools that can be used to complement this support – and may even help create a slight buffer to the stressors being experienced.

1. Recognise feelings of stress before you reach burnout

A nice exercise to get into the habit of this is the “body scan” – this can be done before you settle down to sleep, or before you wake up. It involves relaxing each part of your body from your head to your toes, and reflecting on how it feels – recognising if there is any tension. Some people also do this by tensing and relaxing their muscles, as this can help you recognise the difference between the two.

“If you are feeling depressed or anxious, try to avoid using smiling or dismissive behaviour to cope (e.g. “I’m fine”); it is important to acknowledge your feelings”

Another exercise is to take yourself though different emotional scenarios (e.g. anger, happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, feeling loved), to see if you can recognise where you experience those emotions physically – but always try to end on a more positive one. This might, in turn, help you on a day-to-day basis if something “feels off” – you might be able to work out what the emotion is, and identify the root.

If you are feeling depressed or anxious, try to avoid using smiling or dismissive behaviour to cope (e.g. “I’m fine”); it is important to acknowledge your feelings and accept that you are not “strange”, or “a burden”, or “just being silly”. Stress, depression, and anxiety are very real and, even if you are not at the point of diagnosis, it’s important to view the negative emotions you are experiencing as a warning (like a petrol light) that something needs to be done.

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2. Remember that your physical health can affect your mental wellbeing

Nutrition, sleep, and exercise are all important – getting the blood pumping can help clear your mind while overindulgence can result in feelings of guilt. But undereating and a lack of sleep can also result in a lack of ability to focus. Simply getting outside can help you get more vitamin D, which can increase feelings of happiness and counter things such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD – often exacerbating feelings of loneliness in the winter months) and, of course, fresh air is also good for us.

3. Build a ‘positivity reservoir’

Try keeping photos of moments you love in a screenshot album to remind you that you’ve made a difference. Check-in regularly with good friends (whether by phone or a funny text) to build a sense of connection and laugh – a lot! Positive affirmations can be powerful as can practising gratitude first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.

4. Remember: doing nothing is recharging

So, don’t cause yourself extra worries by thinking, “I must do something…” If we are exhausted, we simply need to stop – and the only way we can do that effectively is by switching off, and not spending the energy we are saving on feeling guilty.

– Resist the temptation to do any DIY.
– Resist the temptation to start any new projects.
– Resist the temptation to do favours for others, just to ‘be busy’.

What can help with this is taking a mini-break from social media… because then, who do you need to prove anything to?

Finally, remember to seek support from a professional if you need it. Burying these feelings can cause harm in the long-run, and increase our sense of isolation. Talking to a professional can help you uncover your stressors, develop coping strategies, and ultimately help bring you out of crisis fatigue.


To connect with a counsellor, or to learn more about crisis fatigue, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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