Feeling tired and irritable You’re not alone it’s a natural part of a crisis response

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Leigh Kendall – 27th May 2020

Have you found yourself feeling tired, irritable, and withdrawn recently, after an initial period of feeling energised at the beginning of the pandemic? 

The good news is you’re not alone, and these symptoms are completely normal. These symptoms are a natural response and a phase people will experience during any crisis. 

There are three phases of a crisis: 

1. Emergency: during the initial phase there’s a clear sense of purpose; our adrenaline helps us feel energised and get things done. We’ve probably all seen this through decisions being made faster than usual and a sense of being very productive. 

2. Regression: inevitably the emergency phase can’t last forever – our energy levels are finite. Recovery, and life returning to any sort of ‘normality’ can feel a long way away. We get tired, irritable, and feel less productive than before. 

Many of us have been experiencing this phase (me included) – the response to my tweet shows how resonant it is. If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms and you’re anything like me, you can also add feeling guilty about the grumpiness in to the equation (guilt around being grumpy while being physically healthy, happily employed, a roof over my head, etc) – creating a vicious circle of negative emotions, increasing tiredness, and a greater sense of irritability. 

So how can we move on from this phase and in to the third phase – recovery?  

The most important thing is to recognise you’re in the regression phase. Recognise that it’s a normal part of the response, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Help others to recognise it too, and equally encourage self-compassion. Look out for one another – if you observe changes in behaviour, reach out, offer support, or point them in the direction of where support can be found

Remember that with social support, most people are likely to be absolutely fine. Some people may need additional psychological support, which is available where necessary – and for those who feel the light at the end of the tunnel is far away – recovery is possible

From my own personal experience, I’d add that the progress of moving to recovery phase is not a simple linear process (unfortunately!). I live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from a near-fatal pregnancy condition and subsequent death of my baby son. The concept of recovery is individual and can be nebulous. During the past few years since my son’s death I’ve thought I’ve reached the recovery phase only to regress, due to various reasons and circumstances – and another vicious circle of self-flagellation was then created.  

My advice (for everyone) is to think about what recovery means to you, and what it means for your team. What does it look like, how might it feel? What has stopped that you haven’t missed? What is happening now that you want to continue? Be prepared to adjust these thoughts as time goes by and circumstances change – and most importantly of all, talk about it. 

The Harvard Business Review article this post was inspired by has several suggestions for helping your team move towards the recovery phase that may be helpful. 

In addition, there is a wealth of wellbeing resources available as part of the national NHS offer that will be helpful to you and your team. You may also find the weekly wellbeing webinars a useful resource for supporting your own and your team’s wellbeing – recordings of the full sessions, and short videos about the themes from each session are available.   

The regression phase is uncomfortable. It’s also unavoidable and cannot be skipped. Understanding what the phases looks like and how you can move through the toughest part of crisis will help you mitigate the performance drop.