Labor Day was created to celebrate the workingmen and workingwomen of our country. It has traditionally been a day for rest and relaxation. It also seems to mark the “end of summer”. In the past kids were back in traditional school, fall schedules were being made and mumblings of “the holidays are just around the corner” could be heard everywhere. Rest was a concept that got lost quickly. We always had somewhere to go, somewhere to be, something to do, or someone who needed us. We struggled to manage so many things that we couldn’t “lighten” our load and relax. Did we even know what rest was? The balance of work and rest was elusive. But this Labor Day looks very different, or does it?
Since the lockdown was imposed in March, we have had to get used to spending more time at home. Most people are not commuting, traveling or going out to dinner or seeing friends and relatives socially. Essential workers aside, many of us are physically doing far less than we used to. Despite this, many say they are feeling exhausted and run down. Why?
Living through a global pandemic and the countless other struggles we currently witness takes its toll on our physical and mental well-being. People are feeling a myriad of emotions including sadness, anger and feeling completely worn out. As one friend said to me recently, “Just living is exhausting nowadays.”
For most of us there is a cycle happening. One of the key reasons we are so tired is the mental strain. We expect to feel tired after a run or taking an exercise class, but high levels of mental exertion and anxiety can make us weary. Even lack of stimulation and structure can leave us feeling apathetic. When we confront psychological stressors, like figuring out new ways to do things, witnessing violence and racism or even an upcoming election, we still have a physiological response. We go into a flight or fight mode and that uses so much energy, causes increased heart rate and a feeling of alertness. However, to stay in this alert state, for any extended period of time, takes its toll.
The cycle continues. Because we are anxious about our health, loved ones, job security and an unclear future, it is affecting our sleep. Anxiety, depression and stress are themselves exhausting, but you add brooding uncertainty and you can see the damage this can do to the body and the mind. It affects our concentration, motivation, energy levels, but most importantly our sleep. Worrying can cause poor sleep, which causes tiredness, which depletes our psychological resources and increases anxiety, which disrupts our sleep and ability to cope. And so on…. Are we surprised that this cycle leaves us utterly exhausted?
So, while this Labor Day looks very different in terms of large gatherings barbecuing and pronouncing the end of summer, I say it has one similarity. Again I ask, do we even know what rest is? We are tired of staying home, tired of being careful and tired of being scared, but we can help ourselves. There are four simple ways to cope with the physical and mental exhaustion we all feel right now. We’ve heard we are all in this together, so just remember TEAM.
Talk-get your feelings out.
Exercise-even a short walk increases endorphins.
Adjust your thinking-remind yourself you are doing the best you can.
Mindfulness-try (I know it’s hard) to be in the moment.
We all know that this acronym for coping will not erase our anxiety and exhaustion. It is just meant to be a start. True rest comes in many forms.. It must be determined by you what brings you tranquility. It is easier to get caught up in the daunting responsibilities of the present and a future of “what ifs”. However, rest can come to anyone from accepting life as it is today. We can trust that faith will work in our life and give us rest for today. It takes great effort to still our hearts and minds. Yet, surrendering, just for today, may not seem as overwhelming and can bring us respite. A sermon by J.R. Miller says it so well; “We never have more than one day’s battles to fight, or one day’s work to do, or one day’s burdens to bear, or one day’s sorrow to endure, in any one day.”
Julie Ruchniewicz, BSN, RN
HMA Executive Director