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Why Am I So Tired?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

This is part of a series of short posts on Covid 19. These are my thoughts, and I wrap them in an acknowledgement that the opportunity to think about and discuss these topics is evidence of an immense amount of privilege. I also know that if those of us with privilege are to use it on behalf of those who have less, we need to be caring for our own mental well-being. To that end, I share these musings.

I am hearing a lot from clients about their level of fatigue these days. “Why am I so tired? I’m getting more sleep than ever….” “I’m not doing nearly as much as I used to before the Shelter-in-Place order….why am I so tired?” I too am getting to the end of each day wondering how I could feel like I saw 8 clients when I only saw two.

There are of course many potential reasons — although some of us are able to sleep more, some of us are sleeping less, or poorly, due to worries and anxiety. Anxiety itself can cause fatigue, as can any strong emotions — think about a child who melts down and then falls asleep in the middle of the crying. But I think there is an additional culprit that we don’t talk about enough — decision fatigue

Human brains have limited capacity for making choices, and every choice has a cost of energy associated with it. This is one reason we create routines; any automaticity we can set up in our lives is one less decision to make. Steve Jobs wearing the same thing every day is a good example of this, and this is why some people eat the same thing for breakfast every morning (OMG — decide what I should eat before coffee? Are you mad?)

In the course of normal daily life, a disruption to a routine is common. We get a new job, we move to a new house, they are doing construction on the road so we take a different route to a place we go. But rarely do we experience a total disintegration of all our routines all at the same time — and this is what we are experiencing now.

Our work routine is different. Our shopping routine is different. Our relational routines are different. Exercise, health care, kids activities, cooking, recreation — quite literally everything has gone to hell in a handbasket all at once. And we now have to struggle through figuring out new routines, and then remembering them, which takes enormous amounts of energy. We may need to revisit the construction of those new routines, either because they need tweaking, or because the situation with Covid 19 keeps changing. And then, let’s not forget that we are often responsible not only for the changes to our own personal routines, but those of the people we live with and care for as well. Is it any wonder we are collapsing at the end of a day, even one when we “didn’t do much”, and can barely stay awake for our nightly Babylon 5 episode?

But wait, there’s more: These routine changes are not without emotional baggage. So on top of the practicalities of figuring out “how to do life”, every time we encounter one of those changes, we likely also have to deal with feelings about those changes — loss, anger, grief, fear (occasionally glee though, if you no longer have to have meetings with that one irritating co-worker) — and guess what? That all takes energy too!

So, what to do? Try some of these ideas:

  1. Show others as much compassion as you can muster. Set your expectations lower.

  2. The same goes for compassion to yourself — put your own oxygen mask on first!

  3. If you are a structure kind of person, make a list of the different areas in your life, and focus on them one at a time, instead of trying to remake your entire daily routine all at once.

  4. Give yourself time to adjust, and treat all feedback as data, rather than as success or failure. View this adjustment as a process, not as a problem to be solved and done with.

  5. Find any small ways that you can remove a need for decisions. Can you make a firm plan about what time dinner will be? Can you have guideposts in your day, such as “a walk after lunch” every day? Can you set alarms on your phone to bookend work times ? (a huge challenge in working from home is stopping working from home) Even small things, like “only black socks” can decrease the load.

Remind yourself that you have adjusted to new things before. You have skills and capabilities. You are not flailing — you are dealing with unexpected changes in all areas of your life all at once. Anyone would be thrown for a loop. You will sort it out.

May you be well in mind and body,


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