I don't know about you, but I'm feeling exhausted. It's not just that over here in Europe we're back under strict lockdown, though that's a hefty chunk of it. And while the chaos at the U.S. Capitol has deflated my optimism about 2021, that's not the whole story either.
Instead, I think a lot of my desire to climb into bed and read all day has to do with the grinding sameness of it all and the impenetrability of the future. Vaccines mean there is hope on the horizon, but for now every day looks like the next and I'm not at all sure when it will end.
I doubt I'm alone in this. In fact, way back in June I highlighted a neuroscientist who assured us that "Covid brain" is a real thing, and there was a biological basis for our lethargy and brain fog. Apparently, even medieval monks had a word for the lack of motivation that comes from being shut up and understimulated all the time.
And that was just June. Now we've got six months more isolation under our belts and are in the middle of a truly horrifying second wave of the pandemic. I thought my first-wave fatigue was bad. Then I experienced this second wave. How can I push through it? I went searching for advice and found a few things that have helped. I'm passing them on to you.
Time to turn up the heat
Part of the reason I'm sure I'm not weird to be struggling to get out of bed these days is this recent HBR article, "How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted -- and You Are Too," from business psychologist Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg. It's evidence that second-wave fatigue is a widespread phenomenon and full of useful advice for business leaders. It's also the source of one of the anti-fatigue tips I personally found most useful.
Wedell-Wedellsborg explains that most of us reacted to the start of the coronavirus crisis with arousal. Basically, shock and adrenaline got us through. We're long past that stage now and will have to draw on different reserves of mental strength. "Stamina is required because, frankly, the second wave is not exciting at all," she sagely writes.
If you can't rely on your emotional afterburners now, what can you rely on? Wedell-Wedellsborg suggests you might be able to think your way out of your current case of the blahs. First, she points out that, as tempting as crawling back into bed might be, doing nothing is more soothing in your imagination that it is likely to be in practice.
In the military, she points out, "boredom and waiting time are perceived as more stressful than actual combat." Doing nothing isn't just bad for soldiers, it's bad for leaders, too.
"In my conversations with a wide range of leaders, they repeatedly emphasize how important it is to be able to do something instead of letting go. Perhaps you feel like staying in bed all day watching Netflix and eating pizza, or 'snug under the duvet,' as one of my clients describes this type of reaction. Once in a while, this may even work well with a bit of constructive denial and self-indulgence, but not every day," Wedell-Wedellsborg continues.
To fight the urge to go into hibernation, she suggests you "turn up the heat."
"As any boxer will tell you, a second wind is brought on by defiance, anger, fear, and frustration," she writes. "So instead of lowering the temperature completely and feeling the effect of exhaustion and boredom, it might be a good idea to turn up the heat and go into fight mode. Take a good look at the battles that will meet you next year. How can you stay ahead of the curve? How can you prepare for the next stages? How can you mobilize and be able to attack before dawn?"
In short, forcing yourself to look ahead and find something to do to prepare for whatever comes next is far more likely to save your mental health and motivation at this moment than your escapism of choice.
The Roaring '20s take two?
Which brings me to the second piece of writing that has given me energy despite the grim start to the year. It's by Morgan Housel, a VC whose smart writing consistently shifts how I see the world. He managed to do it again with a recent post about the state of the economy after a year of Covid.
You might think that sounds like a depressing read, but you'd be surprised. Housel avoids predictions in favor of plain facts, but his easily digestible post still makes a compelling case that the world after Covid is going to be packed with both opportunity and peril.
Through a series of graphs and statistics, Housel shows that in aggregate American "household finances might be in the best shape they've ever been in. Ever." Thanks to stimulus checks and lower consumption during the pandemic, U.S. families have more money saved and lower debt payments than they've had in decades.
"The best comparison might be the late 1940s and 1950s. Then, as now, bank accounts were stuffed full as wartime spending brought record-low unemployment. And then, as now, a lot of that money couldn't be spent because of wartime rationing," he writes. "After the war ended and life got on, the amount of pent-up demand for household goods mixed with the prosperity of wartime employment and savings was simply extraordinary. It's what created the 1950s economic boom."
Will we see the good times roll after the virus is finally under control? The optimism of these numbers must be balanced against huge challenges, including soaring inequality that has left millions scrambling to feed themselves and the political polarization it creates (not to mention other looming crises such as climate change).
The point isn't you should fight your second-wave fatigue by stockpiling party hats and making wild economic bets. The takeaway is that we live in interesting times and the future is set to be just as wild.
Look ahead to the wild ride that's surely on its way and let whatever mix of terror and exhilaration you feel at the prospect of another Roaring '20s fire you up. You probably can't leave your house much right now, but you can think about how to prepare. And that, hopefully, should help you power through your latest, worst case of Covid brain.