Isolation exhaustion: Why are we all so fatigued from doing nothing?

woman yawning with coffee
We should be more rested than ever. So why are we so tired? Photo credit: Getty.

We're now three weeks into New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown, which means we've all settled into our new normal routine. The daily uniform is loungewear, sans makeup, and weekends are now spent baking sourdough or getting through that three-year-old reading list. 

So why, I had to ask myself this week, am I so bloody tired? I've never had so much rest in my life, with evenings no longer spent juggling yoga classes, drinks with friends and getting the washing done. I should be the picture of health and looking five years younger. 

Yet every day, waking up is a challenge and I am, quite simply, exhausted. 

It's a common state of affairs across the country. Even though our lives have slowed right down during lockdown, symptoms of fatigue are beginning to show. Many of us have 'isolation exhaustion': the feeling of being physically and mentally drained from doing nothing. 

Melbourne-based GP Dr Preeya Alexander told Mammamia that we're not imagining it - the uncertainty of these crazy, uncertain times can significantly impact our stress levels - and therefore our energy.

"Many people don't realise being stressed can cause a significant degree of fatigue. These are worrying times, life has changed as we know it and there is a lot of uncertainty, and many of us are feeling stressed and perhaps a touch anxious," she told the lifestyle website.

"This can make us feel exhausted - lots of adrenaline constantly floating around literally wears the body and brain out - so despite not doing very much, our bodies and minds are tired. "

Associate Professor of Psychology at Monash University Sean Cain told 7 News it's also down to our new, very indoor-centric lifestyles. 

"It has a lot to do with the quality of light we're getting and the quality of sleep we're getting," he said. 

"We are suddenly in a very unusual situation where we are spending more time than usual indoors, also we are on more irregular schedules."

Dr Cain says one of the best things to do to combat the fatigue is to get out in the sunshine and fresh air during the day - so make sure you do take that daily Government-sanctioned walk. 

"Getting bright light is healthy and good for your mood, we know that the more bright light you get in the day - the better your mood is in general," he said.

"You can purposely bring some regularity into your life in the form of getting some activity and natural light, trying to sleep at the same time everyday and watching your home lighting at night, that it's not too bright in the evening."

That means going to bed at a regular hour, even if you don't have to be up early, and switching off your phone at night - especially if all you're doing is reading stressful, negative news about the state of the world. 

Dr Alexander also advises steering clear of that extra glass of wine, even if you think it's going to send you off to snooze-land. 

"Try to keep an eye on how much you're drinking right now," she told Mammamia. 

"I'm not saying don't drink (I'm human!) but limiting alcohol intake can improve sleep patterns and hence, fatigue."