When it hasn’t been your week, your month, or ahem, even your year — everyday tasks may feel more overwhelming than they were pre-pandemic. Say, for instance, responding to a text message from a friend or family member. You may have once quickly replied to any blue or green bubble that popped up on your phone. But now, as we’ve all adapted to a worldwide health crisis that changed many aspects of our professional and personal life, it’s normal to feel emotionally and mentally drained. Though it might feel like apathy, it’s more so a sign to prioritize better self-care habits and take time to process your feelings.
Here we spoke with mental health experts to understand why we might feel withdrawn, why it’s okay, and what to do:
You may feel guilty complaining via text
You’re struggling because you can’t see your family this year for the holidays. Or, your job responsibilities have doubled, yet you haven’t been compensated for them. Maybe, your relationship is going through a rocky period. You want to vent to your friends, but you feel guilty about it. This is normal, explains psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., since you may worry about unloading your issues on a pal who is also fighting their own battles. So when they reach out to check-in on you, you give them an ‘I’m fine!’ lie, or you don’t say anything at all.
Instead, Dr. Thomas suggests a healthier alternative: be honest. You can say something along the lines of: “I’m dealing with some issues right now, and I feel guilty sharing them with you when I know you aren’t in the best place either. But if it is okay with you, I would like to reach out to talk about it when I’m ready.”
“This type of reply allows for the friend to understand that you temporarily need space or to ask maybe even if there is anything he or she can do,” Dr. Thomas shares.
You may worry about saying something you regret
Think about a time you were worrying about work, and you inadvertently took your frustration out on your partner. He or she didn’t deserve your snappy response — but you were distracted by other emotions, and they received the brunt of your rage. Sometimes, when a well-intended friend texts to say, ‘Are you feeling better about [the situation]’, our initial response is to respond negatively, Dr. Thomas says. Because of this, you may adopt the golden rule and not say anything at all, which can leave your pal feeling ignored or underappreciated. To prevent this type of miscommunication, Dr. Thomas says to express your current mood. “When we share a bit of our stress and upset in a text reply to a friend, it deescalates some of those feelings,” she shares. “And, it allows you to connect with the friend more genuinely and let him or her be there for you.”
And, it could open the floodgates for your confidant, who may need cheering up texting conversation of their own. As Dr. Thomas explains, by admitting you are having a hard time, your friend might reveal some of his or her own difficulties, too, and/or might become a positive source of emotional support for you.
You may feel overwhelmed by how many text messages you have
Last week, you started to feel smothered by one news headline after another, all detailing the rising case numbers of COVID-19 and the downward spiral of the economy. Rather than leaning into your worries and fears, you buried yourself in your bed, complete with Netflix, and you decided not to talk to anyone. We all need a ‘pause’ sometimes, but when you come up for air again, you may feel overwhelmed by how many texts are waiting for you. This could cause you to retreat once again since feeling numb to what’s around you is more comforting than facing it, Dr. Thomas says. “This can leave you with little focus, energy, and motivation in general,” she explains. “In this situation, you need to find healthy ways to break through your malaise and deal with your emotions.”
One method is to take the texts day-by-day and set a goal number to work towards. Say, responding to a friend on Monday, your mom on Tuesday, and so on. Suppose you are still feeling pressured and unsure. In that case, Dr. Thomas says working with a psychologist can be very useful to help you gain better control over your feelings and learn how to navigate and perhaps even grow effectively.
You should find ways to add movement to your routine
By first accepting that you won’t always feel ready to engage in a texting conversation and knowing that’s okay, you can then move forward and find ways to improve your mental state of mind. Dr. Thomas says to fight against apathy and loneliness, explore different activities and routines that add energy and movement to your life. She suggests these ideas as starting points:
- Write it down. You can journal in the notes section of your phone, in a Google Doc on your computer or in an old-fashioned journal, but the point is: get it out! Dr. Thomas says we feel emotionally drained, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is an effective way for you to release their control over your psyche. “Knowledge is power, and being aware of these things can help you deal more directly with what are the roots of your fatigue,” she adds.
- Exercise thirty minutes four to five days a week. It can be a fast-paced walk in the park, a morning run, a mid-day yoga class, or a boot camp. The point is to move your body! When we commit to a workout routine, Dr. Thomas says we awaken ourselves physically, cognitively and emotionally.
- Eat a balanced diet. No one can eat clean 24/7, but try to follow the 80/20 approach where most of your days and meals are nutritious. When we load up on unhealthy foods packed with sugar and empty carbs, Dr. Thomas says it impacts our blood sugar levels, upsets our stomach, and can put us in a sour mood.
- Sleep. Dr. Thomas says the average person needs between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night. For exactly what you personally need, you can consult your physician or sleep coach. But as a general rule, make sure you prioritize sleep by sticking to a bedtime and disconnecting from all screens at least an hour before bed.