Coronavirus: Why is lockdown so exhausting for those social distancing?

Businesswoman or student sleeping after hard work
Former office workers are complaining of exhaustion amid the UK's coronavirus lockdown. (Getty Images)

With bars closed, parties called off and working from home mandatory for most, the coronavirus outbreak is forcing many former office workers to adjust to a slower pace of life.

Frontline NHS staff, however, are more taxed than ever. Delivery drivers, social workers and politicians are also likely getting little respite.

For those setting up office in their kitchen, many may have expected the longer lie-in, leisurely breakfast and lack of public transport to leave them feeling well rested.

Yet the anxiety of the pandemic combined with the disruption to our normal routine is resulting in many at-home workers being more exhausted than ever.

Business woman with mask working in the office on laptop. Concept, contagious disease, coronavirus.
People caring for others with suspected symptoms, or showing the tell-tale fever or cough themselves, have been advised to wear a mask. (Getty Images)

Coronavirus: Why is lockdown so tiring?

Boris Johnson has enforced draconian measures that prevent people from leaving their home except for “very limited purposes”, like shopping for essentials or exercise.

Anyone with the coronavirus’ tell-tale fever or cough must stay indoors for seven days, while other members of their household must do so for two weeks.

Early research suggests the infection is mild in four out of five cases, however, it can trigger a respiratory disease called COVID-19.

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

Live: Follow all the latest updates from the UK and around the world

Fact-checker: The number of COVID-19 cases in your local area

Explained: Symptoms, latest advice and how it compares to the flu

During the unprecedented lockdown, many Britons are battling feelings of exhaustion, lethargy and just day-to-day fatigue.

“There are numerous reasons for this, including disruption to daily routine, reduced physical activity, boredom, lack of natural light which affects the production of vitamin D – all of which disturb our circadian rhythm [body clock], leading to poor sleep quality,” Dr Meg Aroll, chartered psychologist for Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

Britons are permitted to exercise outdoors but must maintain a two metre (6.5ft) distance from anyone they do not live with.

Reduced social contact may also be leaving many feeling unstimulated mentally.

“Humans are hardwired to be social beings and we thrive on social connection, cooperation, competition and love,” Liz Ritchie, psychotherapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare, told Yahoo UK.

“In the midst of lockdown, our lives have changed immeasurably and we find ourselves living a kind of surreal existence dominated by isolation, high alert, anxiety and unease about what might happen as a result of this pandemic.

“The intense anxiety about the uncertainty can cause us to feel tired, reduce our energy levels, cause physical or mental exhaustion and a lack of motivation.”

Dr Arroll is also concerned the lockdown may trigger symptoms of poor mental health.

A study by the University of Sheffield found a spike in people reporting depression and anxiety after Boris Johnson announced the UK’s lockdown on 23 March.

Prior to this, the prime minister had urged people to avoid social contact, ditch non-essential travel and work from home, if possible.

The scientists found 38% of the 2,000 people surveyed online reported significant depression and 36% noted anxiety.

This is compared to 16% and 17% of people reporting significant depression and anxiety, respectively, the day before Johnson’s announcement.

A lack of energy and disturbed sleeping patterns are recognised warning signs of both mental-health conditions.

With a global pandemic a first in all of our lives, many are glued to their TV for the latest update.

“The current situation means most of us are understandably in a hyper-vigilant state and any information about the virus can be a real energy buster”, said Ritchie.

“The related anxiety can stress the body and tax its energy resources harder than normal.

“Too many stress responses can leave the body devoid of energy, which can make us experience chronic fatigue.”

Cropped shot of a woman washing her hands with soap in the bathroom basin at home
Regular hand washing and social distancing are key to warding off the infection. (Getty Images)

How to ward off exhaustion amid the coronavirus outbreak

We all have a part to play in combating the coronavirus outbreak, with officials repeatedly stressing the importance of hand washing and social distancing.

While the responsibility may feel daunting, simple steps can make the situation easier to cope with and altogether less exhausting.

“Try to keep to a set daily schedule with regular wake, bed, meal, rest and exercise times,” said Dr Arroll.

“Make use of the outdoor exercise excursion allowed to get some vitamin D and top up with a good-quality supplement”.

With officials unable to give an exact timeframe as to how long lockdown may last, many may be struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“It may seem the lockdown will be never ending and the path ahead unknown, but it will end and we will emerge into the world once again”, said Dr Arroll.

“This too, shall pass.”

Some may even find they emerge from the lockdown more well-rounded than before.

“In psychology we call this ‘post-traumatic growth’ whereby difficult situations and experiences give rise to increased self-awareness, knowledge, self-efficacy and empathy,” said Dr Arroll.

“So, look for the lessons and what you can take from this experience to shift your mindset to combat feelings of fatigue and stress, and energise your days.”

Breaking news bringing the latest death toll may be important information, however, try and break it up with moments of light relief.

“Make sure you take your ‘laughter supplements’”, said Dr Aroll.

“This can be whatever brings a smile to your face such as silly cat videos on YouTube, a comedy boxset on Netflix or organising a ‘dad joke’ competition with friends on WhatsApp.

“Laughter boosts mood and can give us respite from intrusive and negative thoughts.”

The coronavirus shares some, but not all, symptoms with colds and flu. (Yahoo UK)

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.

Others include the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

The current circulating strain is thought to have emerged at a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, at the end of last year.

It has since been reported in 180 countries across every inhabited continent.

Since the outbreak was identified, more than 951,900 cases have been confirmed, of whom more than 202,300 are known to have “recovered”, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 48,200.

The coronavirus mainly spreads face-to-face via infected droplets that have been expelled in a cough or sneeze.

There is also evidence it can be transmitted in faeces and urine, and survive on surfaces.

Symptoms tend to be flu-like, including fever, cough and slight breathlessness.

In severe incidences, pneumonia may come about if the infection spreads to the air sacs in the lungs, causing them to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream and a build-up of carbon dioxide.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are offered “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.