Coping in Isolation: The Irony of Fatigue in Isolation


The Irony of Fatigue in Isolation 

By: Jessica Satya Graha

Edited by: Sophie He

Our previous articles have gone into depth about all the things we have missed out on during the pandemic. Nobody needs to tell us what we have missed out on because all of us have had first-hand experience. Whether that was not being able to see family and friends, the limitations on when we could leave the house, living within a 5km radius, I could go on and on but there is no need to bring up the past. 

However, we rarely talk about the opposite end of the spectrum, that despite restrictions, being stuck in our homes and the lack of social events… we seem to experience so much fatigue. It is quite ironic. 

When medical students were questioned about their experience of isolation, one student made an interesting comment regarding the transition from face-to-face events to online events; 

“I think the initial move to online interaction was incredibly important for maintaining any semblance of connection for work, studies or between friends - but reliance on an online presence soon led to an over-saturation of online events as we continued to progress through the pandemic. "Event fatigue " was something that impacted both myself, and countless others around me, where online interactions often felt fictitious and forced. There was no motivation to attend online events as they didn't feel genuine”

Online learning. Zoom presentations. It all seemed like such an elegant solution (and probably the only solution) to the problems of a new era. But it also came with many flaws. 

More time?

As a result of the shift towards a strong online presence, a lot of ‘stand-by’ time in our daily routines was cut out. There were no longer any long commutes. No long morning routines before leaving the house. The mundane tasks were scrapped and we were left with more time. 

From the surface, this was amazing! We got to focus on more important things. But over time, many of us began to confuse this with ‘we get to focus on more things’. These are not the same. We filled our days with much more than we could handle and our brains were constantly being engaged. Previously, with mundane tasks, we were able to take breaks from constant stimulation. But during this period of isolation, we replaced these breaks with more Zoom calls, more meetings, more work… which turned out to be much more tiring than we had anticipated. 

Online interaction 

We may think that social interaction would be more tiring compared to focusing on a small screen, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Needing to focus on just a small screen, means that we have to put in more effort into our communication with others. Non-verbal cues, hand gestures, eye-contact and minute changes in facial expressions enable us to gauge the other people’s emotions and thoughts. As social beings, it comes naturally to us and enables us to build emotional intimacy. But when we are merely looking at a screen, it is nearly impossible to build a holistic picture of how the other person is feeling. This is especially true when our screens are in ‘gallery view’ and our focus is split among many people. It takes much more energy and focus to communicate with intention. 

We seem to be engaged in so many things, while never really being focused on any one thing. We become drained much more easily and this phenomenon has now been termed ‘Zoom fatigue’. 

How much should we compensate for?

Moreover, during periods of restrictions, everyone tried to come up with alternatives - compensating for what we had ‘lost’. There is no doubt that video calling has been a blessing, but when does it become ‘too much’? How much do we need to compensate? How much of this ‘free time’ should we fill in hopes of maximising our productivity? 

The whole world was going through a pandemic and even though it would have been acceptable to take a step back and take a break, some of us felt the need to still keep ourselves busy. In the end, some of us had pushed ourselves into burnout during a period where the world was in lockdown. Ironic, isn’t it? 

One of the students we interviewed stated that ‘there definitely is a sense that we're still making up for the lost time from the last two years! … Many of us are still grieving for the experiences that we will likely never get to live.’ 

But maybe that’s okay… maybe we shouldn’t be compensating for everything that would’ve or could’ve happened. We could perhaps focus on appreciating what did happen, and rather than doing more… focus on doing more of what is important to us; being grateful for our family and friends, the education we receive, even the seemingly ‘mundane’ events like sharing a meal with loved ones or grabbing a coffee with colleagues. 

Even though we are always told to live life to the fullest - it doesn’t mean we need to cram our days to the point of becoming fatigued and burnt out. We need to remember to live intentionally. To keep our relationships real rather than ‘fictitious and forced’. To be mindful of what we sign-up for and the promises we make to others. To take time off even if we have been home all day. To respect our own limits, capacities and boundaries.

For many, lockdowns blurred the lines between work and leisure. And it will take both time and patience to re-introduce this crucial balance.