At the time of writing this article, we’ve been five months into the COVID-19 pandemic since it was declared by the WHO. Have you felt your stress levels rise in this period? Maybe your anxiety too? Have you been experiencing frequent emotional outbursts? Chances are you’re suffering from ‘lockdown fatigue’. It is more of a mental fatigue and exhaustion as opposed to physical fatigue, caused by the psychological aspects of the lockdown. This can be appropriately explained by the following analogy — just as a hiker, after a long and strenuous trek up a steep hill against gravity feels physically exhausted, a person constantly trekking against the various psychological stressors such as fear and loneliness may eventually end up mentally exhausted.
Here’s the thing, you’re not alone in feeling this way. In fact, you’re part of the majority of our country’s inhabitants who’re going through similar struggles, according to a recent study by YourDOST titled Mental Health Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Nationwide Lockdown in India.
As per this study, one-third of Indians reported experiencing high stress when the nationwide lockdown had just started. However, over the next two months, i.e. from lockdown 1.0 on 25th March, 2020, to unlock 1.0 on 7th June, 2020, over 55% of Indians reported an increase in their stress levels. The aspect of lockdown fatigue is not just limited to stress levels. India’s inhabitants have also reported a significant deterioration in feelings of anxiety, anger and loneliness.
So what exactly is the cause of this fatigue? According to the study, there are three major causes of stress:
The contributing factor towards fall in one’s work-life balance includes prolonged work-from-home hours, which often leaves many individuals feeling like they’re in an “always on” mode. Additionally, the lockdown has led to a drastic change in most people’s lifestyles and routines. Many continue to struggle to maintain a proper routine in the modest of these circumstances. Multiple studies have shown that a poor work-life balance can directly impact people’s mental health and also adversely affect the prevention and management of mental illness. This makes the trend of increasing stress level all the more worrying.
These mainly include college students whose colleges were shut down due to the nationwide lockdown and thus, there continues to be a lack of clarity on when and how their exams will be conducted. Exams in general are tremendously stressful. According to an earlier study conducted by YourDOST among Indian college students, 60% reported experiencing high to severe stress from exams. The pandemic added an additional element of uncertainty to this whole situation, which of course has been tremendously distressing for individuals.
At YourDOST, we experienced an 87% rise in the number of sessions related to job loss in the period of March to June 2020, as opposed to the same time frame in the preceding months. Losing a job can be a very traumatic experience for many. According to a review of over 4,000 research papers, conducted by the University of East Anglia and the “What Works Centre for Well-being”, losing a job may even take longer to get over emotionally than a divorce or death of a partner. Pay cuts were another major cause of stress. This adds all the more uncertainty to an individual’s personal finances and affordability.
Lockdown fatigue has significantly impacted the lifestyles of most Indians.
Most people experienced significant deterioration in their sleep quality with a net change of upto 11%. A major reason for this is lack of exposure to sunlight. The lockdown and fear of contracting COVID-19 forced most of us to spend the majority of our time indoors. In fact, the study found that even in areas where the lockdown has been lifted, 90% of the people are unwilling to venture out. This means that their exposure to sunlight has gone down as well. Sunlight plays a major role in setting and resetting our circadian rhythm. It works as our body clock that helps us maintain our sleep schedule. Reduction in exposure to sunlight can severely disrupt this rhythm, and can lead to various sleeping disorders, including insomnia.
Another reason for the deterioration of sleep quality is stress. Chronic stress causes our minds to be in a heightened state of alertness. This delays the onset of sleep and causes rapid, anxious thoughts to occur at night. Insufficient sleep can cause further stress.
Most Indians have also experienced a drastic increase in the frequency of their emotional outbursts. These outbursts occur in the form of angry outbursts or crying fits. From a psychological point of view, this too is expected. Studies have shown that it’s common to experience a failure of cognitive emotion regulation, especially when it comes to unpleasant emotions, under stress. The reason for this is that cognitive emotion regulation is controlled by our brain’s prefrontal cortex. When we’re stressed, stress-related neuroendocrine hormones tend to impair the prefrontal cortex, thus affecting cognitive emotion regulation, which consequently leads to emotional outbursts.
Given the onset of lockdown fatigue, it’s clear that the commonly used coping strategies have proved inadequate, thus leading to impairment in different areas of our life. There is, thus, an urgent need to adopt a holistic management strategy to ensure the Indian population’s overall mental wellness. Depending on the level of functional impairment of each individual, self-care, peer-support and professional-care interventions would be effective.
Would you like to read the full report of YourDOST’s study on Mental Health Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic & Nationwide Lockdown in India? Click here to get your copy today.