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July 16, 2022

Why You Feel Exhausted During the Pandemic—and How to Deal

Why You Feel Exhausted During the Pandemic—and How to Deal

Updated May 6, 2020; 11:00 a.m. EST

If you’re not an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re likely spending a lot of time at home. You’re probably running far fewer errands than before, and there’s a good chance your travel has dropped to almost nil. You might even be sleeping more.

And yet, at the end of each day, you’re exhausted.

Don’t worry—you’re not alone in feeling perpetually wiped out. For millions of Americans, uncertainty about the outbreak, a constant stream of upsetting news and major disruptions to daily life have led to stress, sadness, anger and unhealthy behaviors—all of which can contribute to fatigue.

“A lot of people have changed the way they’re coping with the world,” says Jenn Crofts, Clinical Psychologist, PsyD, from Safe Harbor Counseling and Advocacy in Winter Park, Florida. “People are thinking, ‘I don’t have to go to work, so I’m going to sleep until 1 p.m. I’m going to eat 10 times per day.’ That physiological change is exacerbating how fatigued and stressed we feel.”

It’s completely normal to be tired right now. It’s a tiring time. But if you’d like to feel a little less drained at the end of each day, here’s what you can do.

Acknowledge you’re experiencing trauma
Trauma is an emotional response to a destructive event, such as an accident, natural disaster, sudden illness or assault—and it’s been linked to a host of physical, mental and emotional issues. After a traumatic event, many people experience shock or denial immediately. In the longer-term, effects can include mood swings and feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety, as well as sleep disorders and chronic fatigue.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a traumatic event—but that’s not all it is. “It’s important to recognize that the coronavirus is both a traumatic experience and a grief experience,” says Crofts. “When we talk about grief, it’s your sense of normalcy being lost; uncertainty is something a lot of people struggle with. The trauma is this change in your narrative—your world being turned upside-down—and trying to figure out how to make sense of it.”

Dealing with trauma and grief can drain you emotionally and sap you of energy. To help you cope—and perhaps feel less weary—Crofts recommends concentrating on what you have control over.

“Because your sense of safety and stability have been ripped away from you, you need to find the things within your realm of control,” she says. “What do you have that you can do right now? Focus on that.”

These strategies may help you deal with your experience and give you more momentum to get through each day:

  • Stay connected. Talking and laughing with the people you love can be revitalizing. Reach out to friends and family through phone calls, texts, emails or video chats.
  • Maintain a healthy daily routine. Wake up, go to bed and eat nutritious meals around the same time each day. Make sure to bathe and get dressed daily, and allow time for exercise and self-care, if possible.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember what you’re feeling is normal, and you are not alone. Appreciate that you’re doing your best during these challenging times.

Hard as it may seem, many people will slowly become acclimated to life during the pandemic. But if your feelings become overwhelming or make it hard to function, it’s time to seek help. Contact a mental health professional or your healthcare provider. If you’re in crisis, you can also text HOME to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988.

Address your stress
While some stress is to be expected during difficult times, constant, unrelenting stress can tire you out, diminish your focus and affect your overall well-being. This in turn can feed into more stress and exhaustion. But you can boost your mental and physical health and offer some protection against fatigue by learning how to manage your stress.

Start by taking breaks from the news. Reading, watching or listening to coronavirus coverage around the clock fuels anxiety for many people. Try to limit your intake to a few minutes at a time, once or twice per day. Get your information from reputable, reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Explore relaxation techniques, too. You may want to try deep breathing or meditation, which may ease your body’s stress response, but any activities that calm your mind can be useful. Some people find solace in journaling, prayer, exercise or hobbies such as cooking, gardening or reading.

As with trauma, if your stress and anxiety feel overwhelming, interfere with daily living or lead to thoughts of self-harm, you should seek medical help immediately.

Prioritize quality sleep
Better sleep equals less exhaustion, right? Trauma, stress, information overload and an inconsistent schedule can all contribute to disrupted sleep—and during the pandemic, a good night’s slumber is vital. Among many other health benefits, consistently getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night (for adults) can boost immune function, memory and concentration, not to mention lessen fatigue.

It may feel impossible to get adequate sleep, but you can take action to improve its quality. The first step is maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, since following a regular schedule can make it easier to fall and stay asleep. Keep any naps to 30 minutes and avoid napping after 2 p.m., as it may interfere with your ability to doze off in the evening.

Limit less-than-healthy habits before bed, as well. Halt your caffeine intake at least six hours prior to turning in, and power down smartphones, tablets and similar devices an hour before you hit the sack. Leaving your phone in another room will prevent you from scrolling through social media or looking at pandemic news updates at night.

It’s also a good idea to avoid illicit drugs along with excessive alcohol and tobacco use. “You’re numbing your experience,” says Crofts, “making this, in the long-term, more traumatic than it has to be.”

Ultimately, to ease your exhaustion during the pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that your feelings are valid. And above all? “Be compassionate with yourself and with others” advises Crofts, “because this is the toughest thing a lot of people have had to cope with in a long time.”

Medically reviewed in April 2020. 


American Psychological Association. “Trauma,” “Stress effects on the body.”
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). “Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.)” Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma.
American Heart Association. “Stress and Heart Health.”
University of Michigan Medicine. “Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.”
National Sleep Foundation. “National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times,” “How Sleep Affects Your Immunity,” “How Lack of Sleep Impacts Cognitive Performance and Focus,” “Caffeine and Sleep.”
Lisa Medalie. “Why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep during the coronavirus outbreak.” University of Chicago Medicine. April 16, 2020.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “New Guideline: February 2017.”