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Why do we have a lack of enthusiasm and energy for life post lockdown?

Why do we have a lack of enthusiasm and energy for life post lockdown?

When the first lockdown was announced in Victoria, I grappled with a mixture of confusing emotions.

Once the initial shock and disbelief wore off, and I was no longer frantically trying to pivot my career, there was a tiny part of me that found a ban on socialising almost comforting.

I know it was such a challenging time for many, and even with all my various levels of privilege, I didn’t escape it unscathed.

I had to leave my dream job, experienced rapidly declining mental health, and lost my father to a longstanding illness, all without the social support networks I usually relied on. My story is not unique; I know so many others had it so much worse.

However, being a classic introvert, I was a little relieved knowing that I could conserve my social energy and retreat to my bed whenever I needed to, without explaining it to friends or colleagues.

I didn’t have to agonise over whether I was emotionally stable enough to attend social events – because they were all cancelled. I sometimes felt extreme guilt at finding lockdown so convenient when I wanted to hide from the world.

That said, after a while, I was well and truly sick of social distancing, just like everyone else. I missed laughing with friends without wondering if I was about to breathe in rogue COVID-19 particles. I missed hugging my siblings and my mum. I even missed being in crowds and feeling only mild frustration rather than extreme panic and fear.

So, it came as a shock when the lockdown was lifted, and we were free to socialise again… and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Post-pandemic exhaustion: why are we socially drained after lockdown?

Universal though the pandemic was, it was undoubtedly more challenging for some than for others.

People who lost jobs or worked excess hours under brutal conditions experienced extreme burnout and worked themselves into the ground. People living in unsafe homes, unhoused people, and people with pre-existing health conditions faced challenges I couldn’t even imagine. Extroverts also suffered from being unable to get a boost of energy from social interactions.

Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of The Psychology of Pandemics, explained that it’s normal not to feel ready to return to our social lives immediately.

Firstly, we are not returning to the same ‘normal’ that we knew before the pandemic. Our lives have been fundamentally changed by the individual and collective trauma we’ve experienced. Some are struggling with chronic grief, anger, or post-traumatic stress from terrible experiences with the virus.

Psychologists and researchers have been investigating the post-pandemic fatigue phenomenon, exploring new terms like adjustment disorder, COVID stress syndrome, and coronaphobia (extreme fear of catching the virus).

But perhaps the best term to explain why we are so socially exhausted post-lockdown is cave syndrome, which describes feeling uneasy or apprehensive about reintegrating into public life after prolonged isolation.

Cave syndrome isn’t a medically diagnosable condition, but it does make a lot of sense. For almost two years, we were told not to leave our homes, get too close to one another, go anywhere unmasked, and avoid crowds. It was literally a matter of life and death.

And, as much as we want to believe otherwise, the pandemic is not completely ‘over.’ The virus is still circulating in our community, and it is now a personal decision when, how, and where to socialise.

This new level of personal responsibility for our health and those we love is enough to make some of us retreat to our caves in a heap of fear and exhaustion.

Why do we have a lack of enthusiasm and energy for life post lockdown?

Our social stamina has taken a hit

Even if you aren’t particularly afraid of the virus itself, you’ve probably noticed that your social battery drains a little quicker than it used to.

People who could once work full-time and go out almost every night are now reporting that they are exhausted after a single casual night out with close friends.

Most experts say it isn’t something to worry about and not to push yourself too hard if you are still adjusting to your pre-pandemic pace of life.

Living through an unprecedented level of fear and uncertainty creates significant stress in your mind and body, causing soaring cortisol levels. Prolonged stress can easily cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and low motivation and drive for even our most beloved activities.

We have also likely simply lost some of our social ‘fitness.’ Engaging with others face-to-face takes mental and emotional energy. We all know that if we skip the gym for a couple of months, that first session back is pretty brutal. We can think of our social life in the same way post-lockdown.

Your social muscles may feel a little weaker, but they can be ‘trained’ by gently extending yourself out of your comfort zone, which has likely shrunk a little over the past couple of years. This is normal, and there is nothing wrong with you. Sharing these feelings with your friends when you see them might be a great way to reconnect and support each other as you re-engage with ‘normal’ life.

Taking your time as you return to your usual activities is far from a sign of weakness. It’s the best way to prevent yourself from burning out and ensure you enjoy your social activities in this new world.

Forcing yourself to start travelling or being in large crowds before you’re ready might reinforce your belief that public spaces are scary or that you no longer enjoy them.

It’s a delicate balancing act, though, because if you wait until you have no apprehension at all, you might be waiting in your cave forever.

How to find joy in your social life again post-pandemic

While COVID-19 has not been eradicated, most of the restrictions on how we live have now been lifted.

Of course, many people are still bearing the brunt of the pandemic, namely those living with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable and those suffering from the symptoms of long COVID. But most people are now feeling ready to start testing the waters again in whatever way feels right for them.

Gently re-engaging with your loved ones might feel difficult right now, but you will probably be surprised at how energised and happy you feel after you’ve been in the company of your favourite people again. It’s also important to take good care of your mental and physical health during this transition to combat your exhaustion and help you build your resilience.

Focusing on eating nutritious, wholesome food and participating in gentle exercise can do wonders for your physical energy levels and your mental health. Getting enough sleep and engaging in mindfulness may also help balance your mood and refill your cup when you start feeling run down.

Most importantly, continue practising patience with yourself. If you used to go out four nights a week but now can only manage one social event per fortnight, that’s fine. Judging yourself will only increase tension, fear, and potential resentment of the things in life that are meant to be enjoyable.

Take the pressure off yourself, be honest with those you trust to be understanding and supportive, and ask for help from a trusted friend or mental health professional if you need it.

There is no single ‘right’ way to start socialising again after the ravaging impacts of COVID-19 and social isolation. Spending time with the people you have been missing should help your mental health and energy levels, but don’t be surprised or upset with yourself if you need breaks in between.

The impacts of what we have all been through are only just beginning to show themselves, and it’s more important than ever to be kind and patient with others and ourselves.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.