Have you been feeling more fatigued lately? All of the usual activities that normally feel smooth and seamless have turned into a grind. Guess what? You are not alone. Many are reporting a similar sense of exhaustion.
I was—and am—not alone. I started sharing these feelings with friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and many of them, too, reported a similar sense of exhaustion. Google searches for the phrase “Why am I tired all the time?” have been at their historical highs between July 2021 and September 2021.
There are, of course, many reasons for our collective fatigue: a year-and-a-half-long pandemic, social unrest and democratic backslide—to name just a few. But even beyond these obvious drivers, I think there is something else going on: We are replacing excitement with anxiety. This phenomenon is subtle and insidious. But confronting it might help!
Even the calmest, most equanimous people benefit from at least occasional periods of excitement. There is a reason that “flat-lining” is associated with death. We thrive with some degree of oscillation in our lives. The pandemic has, by and large, taken these punctuated bouts of the excitement away.
Attending concerts, sporting events, movies, even going to restaurants (let alone taking a proper vacation) is not as straightforward as they used to be. For many people with children too young to be vaccinated—these activities are still off-limits. And even for those who feel more comfortable partaking in these sorts of activities, they are not stress-free. Every night out is accompanied by some degree of decision stress on the front end (should we go or not; is it worth the risk?) and nervousness on the back (is this slight headache from the wine or did I contract a case of delta?) As a result, many people are going out less often. There is a collective lack of excitement in our lives.
A chronic lack of excitement is challenging enough on its own. But it is even worse when we replace our longing for excitement with anxiety, which can feel quite similar in the moment but has an extremely different long-term effect.
Consider this all-too common example: You are feeling kind of sluggish and bored, so you go online and check trending topics on social media or visit any of the major news websites. You are not going to these destinations to learn anything specific, per se. You are going because you want a jolt to your otherwise flat-lining system. The jolt comes in the form of a horror story about politics, covid, Afghanistan, or any number of other unsettling topics. Though that jolt can, at least momentarily, feel like the excitement you are so desperately craving, however, it is actually anxiety. And repeated bouts of anxiety lead to deep exhaustion.
Put it all together and not only are we lacking many sources of positive and energizing excitement, but we are replacing them with negative and exhausting sources of anxiety. Viewed in this light, the question isn’t why are we tired all the time? The question is how could we not be tired all the time?
The solution requires three steps. First, we need to stop replacing our desire for excitement with anxiety. When you feel the urge to doom scroll, ask yourself what is fueling that urge? If the answer is some vague notion of well, it’s something to do, then you’ve got to resist the urge.
Second, we need to do everything possible to insert some positive excitement into our lives in a way that feels safe. There is an inertia to fatigue. And while physical fatigue often benefits most from rest, psychological fatigue—the variety I am describing in this piece—often benefits most from action. In other words, you don’t need to feel good to get going, you need to get going to give yourself a shot at feeling good.
Third, we need to be patient. While there is still much that we can do that is safe, it is also true that there is much we can’t. Things are hardly normal, and to pretend otherwise is absurd. Though it may seem like it will, our current state of affairs will not last forever. There is an old expression, “don’t just stand there, do something.” But in situations like this, perhaps the better advice is “don’t just do something, stand there.”