The Four Types of Fatigue You Don't Know You Have And What To Do About Them
“When I was a kid I never would have guessed that being an adult and ‘going to bed whenever I want’ would mean 9:30 p.m.”—Travis McElroy
It appears that, for many, one of the defining markers of adulthood is the amount of time spent discussing how tired we all are and how we’re looking forward to an early night and getting some rest this weekend.
In recent years, best-selling books like “Why We Sleep”, and “The Sleep Revolution” have implored us to accept that sleeping less in an attempt to produce more is not only unwise, it’s actually impossible. As Matthew Walker explains: “Sleep is the Swiss Army knife of health. The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life....People often tell me that they do not have enough time to sleep because they have so much work to do...perhaps the reason they still have so much to do at the end of the day is precisely because they do not get enough sleep at night.”
Given that we’ve all personally experienced how quickly we lose our productivity, motivation, and joy when we don’t get enough sleep, many of us are already onboard with prioritizing sleep quality and quantity.
Why then, are we still waking up tired or feeling like, despite sleeping, we’re not well rested? As it turns out, getting enough quality sleep is only part of the equation. We also need rest, which, you’re about to learn, looks very different to shut-eye.
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith says the real reason we’re low on energy is because sleep and rest are not the same thing and we’ve dumbed down rest to the point that it appears ineffective. Rest is not lying on the couch binge-watching series. The right type of rest depends on the type of fatigue we’re experiencing.
Screen and Zoom Fatigue
Screen fatigue happens when you spend consecutive uninterrupted hours focusing on your laptop, tablet, phone, TV, or, all four. Screens are tiring because our eyes have to work harder to focus, it’s more physically and mentally taxing to read off a screen and we blink less when staring at them. All this equals increased eye strain and greater mental load. Even when it looks like nothing much is happening.
“Zoom fatigue” is a new term which describes that depleted, empty feeling you’re left with after a day of back-to-back online meetings. The recent study, Non-Verbal Overload: A theoretical argument for the causes of Zoom Fatigue, showed that in online meetings, our brains have to work overtime to make up for lost context and it’s cognitively exhausting to watch ourselves on screen (i.e. stare at a mirror all day), especially for women.
People were less available for all-day back-to-back meetings before the world went remote because in-person meetings required drive-time and in-office casual conversations did a lot of the work. Now, people are arranging Zoom calls for quick-touch conversations that used to happen at the water cooler and everyone’s forgotten that it’s normal to need time to reset and refresh between meetings.
The physical toll of staring at a screen is easy to see. Eye strain, blurry vision, headaches, neck and shoulder tension and disturbed sleep cycles all indicate that your body needs you to move away from your screen.
If you notice that after a few back-to-back online meetings you’re feeling foggy or you experience a quiet sense of dread about upcoming meetings, you’re probably overdoing the video-on, Zoom time.
If you aren’t in a position to make the call for how and when company meetings happen, it’s worth sharing this information and the study referenced above with those who are.
Remote work calls for policies that include full days blocked out for deep work and no meetings, clustering meetings together for efficiency, and encouraging employees to block out 15min after each meeting and before the next one. So, for every 1-hour meeting you get booked for, you block out 75 minutes in your schedule and you’re only available for another meeting then.
Two effective ways to reduce the time you spend staring at yourself on-screen is to choose to be video-off for some meetings. For those where video-on is necessary, set Zoom to “speaker” mode and cover your thumbnail image with a sticky note.
When it comes to screen fatigue, install a mindfulness bell to chime every 30-minutes and when it does, look up from your computer, blink a few times and focus on something in the distance to rest your eyes. First prize is to take regular breaks and go outside for some sun and fresh air.
- Switching between sensory organs can also be deeply restorative. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in a profoundly restful auditory experience with this immersive sound therapy guided meditation.
- Take a few minutes to do some eye yoga at lunch or at the end of your work day.
- Pack your laptop away after work and go do anything that does not involve a screen, for a few hours. Even though TV-watching at night may feel passive, if you work online all day, it’s not restorative.
- If you’re going for hero-status, find a small box and dub it your phone’s bed. This box lives outside your bedroom and your phone goes to bed at 7 p.m. every night. End of story.
Have you ever had a solid cry before bed and then woken up feeling listless, exhausted, and unmotivated the next day? Emotional hangovers are real and emotional fatigue feels the same but plays out over an extended period of time.
Emotional fatigue is the result of prolonged periods of excessive stress in any area of your life. Given the past two years, it’s safe to assume that the majority of us have been feeling, and perhaps still are, emotionally spent.
Physically you feel okay. Your body wants to move but you can’t find the drive to exercise. You may feel more irritable, less motivated, or experience brain fog. You may not be able to find meaning and fulfillment in the ways you once did, and struggle to connect with others because you don’t have the energetic capacity to engage in deep, emotional conversations.
While we cannot prevent or control what circumstances (personal or global) arise, we can control how we choose to perceive and respond to them. In order to harness our ability to respond well, we need to be resourced.
Sufficient sleep (the meditation below can assist), regular movement, and good nutrition are baseline imperatives. Attending to our nervous system and increasing our vagal tone are also vital because when our nervous system is regulated we’re able to meet emotional stressors from a place of being resourced. We’re then able to process stress in realtime and return to neutral, rather than become overwhelmed, or hold onto or resist emotion.
The Sangha (community) Session below explains how to use iRest to rebalance your nervous system.
- Emotional fatigue and a hyper-aroused nervous system go hand-in-hand. Activities that you find grounding and centering (and which shift you from go-mode to flow-mode), can help you process and release stuck emotions and memories. Think gardening, creative arts, nature walks, dancing.
- If you haven’t had a break in a while, it’s time to take leave and plan a holiday without too many plans.
- The self-inquiry practice below was created to help you process and release difficult emotions in a safe space.
After long months of staying home and staying away from each other, our social muscles have atrophied. Socializing takes energy because you’re concentrating in order to follow conversational threads, sharing your inner world, and processing a lot of information and external stimuli.
If you feel drained rather than connected and nourished after a social event, or if you’re feeling resistant rather than excited about an upcoming dinner, you may have social fatigue. It can affect anyone no matter where you fall on the sliding scale between introversion and extroversion.
You want to see your friends, family, and colleagues. You miss them. And at the same time, you don’t feel up to seeing them. You have a strong urge to withdraw and events and invites that used to excite you don’t appeal anymore. You may feel over-reactive, extra sensitive, or detached and low on energy.
Know thyself and be thyself. Do you know what’s more exhausting than too much socializing? Putting on a facade and being inauthentic to try to fit in or please others. One of the fastest ways to exhaust yourself is to try to be someone you’re not, in public.
Choose the way of integrity by choosing your true nature (say, seeing a friend one-on-one for a walk twice a week) over what others want or expect of you. Know your boundaries and hold them. Figure out how much social time, and what kind, works for you and say “no, thanks” to the rest.
Start to take note of who energizes you and who depletes you. Choose the former and kindly let the latter go. Don’t judge yourself for needing or wanting alone time. It’s very healthy to be able to spend undistracted time with yourself.
Stop agreeing to plans and invites. Either reduce how much you’re socializing or take a complete break.
Choose wisely. Only socialize with people who you can be yourself with and who leave you feeling better for having spent your time with them.
Spend time alone. Time that you intentionally set aside for being, not doing. Making space to do nothing but sit with yourself is a powerful choice. Take 40-minutes and offer yourself the guided yoga nidra practice below for self-nourishment.
Better understood as sensory overload, this occurs when one or more of your bodily senses is receiving too much stimulation from your environment. Bright screens, flashing lights, incessant loud noise, social gatherings, and public transport can be over-stimulating.
Sensory overload is experienced as irritability, reactivity to stimulus that doesn’t seem to bother others, feeling wired, or a sense of anxiety related to your environment.
Our nervous systems are unique and we can all handle different amounts of sensory input before feeling flooded.
Taking sensory breaks during the day can help your nervous system process and return to neutral by halting sensory input for a few minutes. If your work involves a lot of screen time, closing your eyes for two minutes every few hours is a sensory break. Use noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to help cancel out background noise. If you’ve been in a noisy environment all day, or had to do a lot of talking, having a bath after work and submerging your ears beneath the water is restful.
Incorporating a regular autogenic practice into your daily routine helps foster your ability to return to baseline and process stimuli without getting overwhelmed. Try the autogenic practice below.
Reduce the amount of sensory input by “closing off” one of your senses for a few minutes. Taking five minutes to meditate can help you to rest and refresh any time you need a break. Try a 5-Minute rest and refresh meditation below.
If you can’t remove yourself from a situation, it’s helpful to turn your attention inwards, using your breath as an anchor to the present moment. The 3-minute breathing exercise below can be done on-the-go
And this 10-minute exercise induces deep relaxation and renewal.
Rest for Success
“Staying busy is easy. Staying well-rested is the challenge. Rest is not for weaklings...It means saying no. It means having limits with ourselves. It means having limits with others. It takes courage to rest in the midst of an outcome-driven society.” —Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith
May this be your permission slip to take the rest you need.
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I am grateful for all of the practices that you have shared and the information in the article is excellent!
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