Raise your hand who did not sigh or say even once during the pandemic: “I am weary! ”. The overhead is real and can get even worse. Experts explain why we feel this way, what is the impact on the brain and what to do to minimize the feeling of not being able to cope
Earlier this year, Nicole Pereira Citton, 33, was adapting back to the office after maternity leave when she received a desired promotion as a production leader at the multinational where she works. Less than a week later, due to the measures imposed to control the pandemica of the new coronavirus in Porto Alegre, she found herself in the home office, having to end calls or meetings by videoconference to assist her son, Max, then 7 months old.
In charge of job and responsibility had doubled in the company and at home, in a double journey that happened simultaneously in the same space. “The impression I have is that we never win and the relationship is damaged because we cannot go out to enjoy moments together,” he says. The most repeated phrase by Nicole during the interview was: “I am very tired”.
The feeling is familiar to several people at the moment. Experts have even coined a term to name it, pandemic fatigue. The consequence of such exhaustion is an explosion in the rates of mental disorders. “There is already talk of a second pandemic, that of mental health issues”, says psychologist Wagner de Lara, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS).
A survey by the Brazilian Association of Psychiatry (ABP) showed that half of the professionals reported an increase in the number of visits and 89% reported a worsening in the number of patients.
This exhaustion stems, in part, from exactly what Nicole described as her new routine, this engagement in multiple activities simultaneously. For the brain, the so-called continuous partial attention leaves it overwhelmed by the excess of information.
It is not difficult to imagine why. Between an important online meeting and a baby in trouble, the mind goes into a hyperfocus state to cope with interpreting different relevant stimuli. “The physical separation of work and home imposed important divisions.
You left the office, got into traffic, listened to music and hung up until you got home. Now, the person changes the screen for another appointment almost immediately. In the long run, this causes a state of chronic fatigue ”, explains Wagner. “Another exhausting issue is the pressure to follow safety standards, which we were not used to. This creates a cognitive overload of attention ”, he adds.
The videoconference meeting environment is more of a problem for our cognition. The wear, called Zoom fatigue, or Zoom fatigue, occurs because a good part of human communication is based on non-verbal cues, such as gestures, postures and expressions, which help us to understand if an interlocutor agrees or disagrees with us – and if he is paying attention.
Through apps, however, these cues are dispersed, and our brain needs to put much more effort into the verbal part to decode a screen with different faces and different reactions or delayed by connection failures.
Our brain is now more demanded not only by remote work or health concerns but also emotionally. After all, we develop anxiety about the fear of losing our job, about the uncertainty of the future.
“For the brain, there is no separation between reason and emotion. Fear and anguish, for example, steal our cognitive energy, and this makes it more costly to focus on tasks ”, explains neuroscientist Augusto Buchweitz, a researcher at the Instituto do Cebra (Inscer) in Rio Grande do Sul.
He studied the effects on the brain of children exposed to violence and draws parallels with those caused by the pandemic. Although they are distinct problems, they both raise levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which acts as an alarm.
In dangerous situations, it warns the body that it is necessary to prepare for an emergency. This warning is fundamental for the survival of men since the time of the caves, when our ancestors needed to be smart not to be devoured by animals.
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In our routine, however, the threats that trigger cortisol are so frequent that the warning does not turn off. The body distributes less energy for cell maintenance or for the immune system, so it stops fighting a silly infection and is more predisposed to chronic diseases. That is why stress is at the root of so many health problems.
To the children and teenagers, the feeling of loneliness can be the main source of distress even in a hyperconnected era. “Despite the possibility of speaking on the internet, they report feeling alone, a feeling that is an important risk factor for cognitive development”, says psychiatrist Guilherme Polanczyk, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of São Paulo, who is developing a survey of more than 9,000 young people.
After three months imprisoned at home with her husband and son, production leader Nicole decided to ask for help. He took his laptop to his father’s house and managed to have a few hours of exclusive focus on work while he took care of Max.
As tiredness persisted, she and her husband changed the combinations once again. Now, Nicole goes to the office a few afternoons, while her husband takes care of the little one, who is already 1 year and 2 months old and rehearsing his first steps. “As Max grew, it became more difficult to reconcile attention with him and the eight hours of work”, he reports.
Psychoanalyst from São Paulo Maria Homem believes that the pandemic has strengthened the always postponed debate about the (almost always unjust) division of domestic work. “Women maintained their patriarchal logic with the help of other women, nannies and cleaning women, who are equally overworked and often underpaid,” notes the author of Soul Magnifier (However) about the unveiling of the structures provided by the quarantine.
With the impossibility of resorting to external support due to the isolation measures, couples were left to face, without palliative measures, the distribution of tasks.
A group of researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul and Campinas produced booklets to clarify the population on how not to fall into the mind traps in Covid-19 times, how to want to control the uncontrollable and underestimate the risks of the disease.
The first example can increase fear and anxiety, leading, in extreme cases, to panic. The second puts your life and that of your family in danger. The logic of “not so much” or “how much hysteria” comes from a natural defense mechanism for human beings in crisis situations. It occurs when we fail to dimension reality as it appears and we refuse to change. For the brain, it brings comfort. It’s just not going to resolve fatigue in the long run.
To adjust our emotions, Wagner suggests adopting the resources studied by positive psychology to build resilience. “One of them is to cultivate positive emotions. Take a moment every day to do some activity that distracts you and does you good, like listening to music, ”he says.
Another recommendation is to value the period, which, although difficult in many aspects, will hopefully bring self-knowledge. According to him, we will know our worst version, which will help us to have a complex view of ourselves. “A person who left in the morning and returned at night from work now has to help his son with his homework, go to the kitchen. There are multiple understandings of herself. There should be no frustration or resentment when recognizing these possibilities. It is a good time to exercise self-compassion or to open up to other ways of being ”, he says.
Religious and philosophical experiences also serve to control anguish, in addition to therapy, of course, to work out so much change without succumbing.
Escaping the fatigue caused by simultaneous domestic and work tasks requires discipline. Experts recommend 15-minute breaks, preferably outdoors, to rest our attention in a trance with remote work. And the most difficult tip of all: when meeting online, plan to be brief. It seems impossible, but your mind will thank you.
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