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Why are we so tired during lockdown?

Given the current health crisis and the imposed confinement rules, more and more people declare themselves unusually tired, in particular on social networks. Most of us wonder how this is possible when we are less active than normal. Here are the reasons why we feel more tired and anxious than normal.

Fatigue can also be mental

The sensation of fatigue we are feeling right now is more related to the mental load associated with the COVID-19 epidemic and the rules of home confinement, rather than to the daily physical demands. Indeed, fatigue can have physical as well as mental causes. These represent a change in our psychobiological state, manifesting itself gradually and usually resulting in a feeling of exhaustion and a lack of energy. Certain warning signs are easily identifiable, such as mood changes or increased feelings of frustration, even if these are not specific to states of mental fatigue. A decline in cognitive abilities, such as difficulty staying focused, is also a warning sign.

Many factors behind mental fatigue

Several factors can explain the onset of mental fatigue:

  • Many research studies show that fatigue can be caused by stress and anxiety. The spread of the epidemic makes us confused and uncertain. All of these feelings can lead to poor sleep quality, which in turn can make us more tired and anxious. Also, in the current context, it could be the monotony of the situation that creates this feeling of fatigue. Therefore, dealing with the psychological pressure associated with the epidemic could exhaust us.

  • Mental fatigue can also be caused in part by the repetition of intense and / or prolonged cognitive tasks. It can manifest itself after only 60 minutes of solicitation and strengthen with the duration and intensity of the workload. In particular, and despite many advantages, teleworking is conducive to the onset of mental fatigue. Indeed, telework tends to blur the boundaries between professional and private life in the absence of clearly defined time slots. This can result in a loss of efficiency, leading either to an increase in the workload to complete a task in a given time, or to an extension of the time to complete the task.

  • Beyond the specific case of teleworking, other factors relating to professional activity can be sources of mental fatigue. For example, the possibility of constantly thinking about work, in particular the anticipation of possible reorganizations to come after confinement, can be a source of high mental load and therefore anxiety-provoking thoughts.

  • In this period of home confinement, other sources of mental load can strengthen and accumulate to the previous factors. For example, the time dedicated to children's school work can also be extremely time-consuming and just as exhausting. We can add the repeated assimilation of a continuous flow of information related to the health crisis, or the increase in the time spent on certain online activities (video games, social networks, streaming services, etc.), which are conducive to cognitive overload. Thus, the screen can easily be invited into our professional and extra-professional activities over a very wide hourly amplitude, which in turn can strongly impact our sleep. An alteration in our sleep quality can in turn make our professional tasks more difficult to perform.

Mental fatigue can lead to physical inactivity

Paradoxically, if performing physical activity is effective in preventing the onset of mental fatigue, it is also possible that it can complicate things a little ... Indeed, the state of mental fatigue could modify the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain (accumulation of adenosine and decrease in dopamine, for example), which can lead to an increase in the perception of effort and a decrease in associated motivation. As a result, an effort that you are used to making will be perceived as more difficult. If our perception of the effort exceeds our initial motivation, we can decide to decrease the intensity of the effort or even stop it in frustration.

Find out how to overcome mental fatigue and get through the COVID-19 outbreak as best you can >>

By Chris Hayot, PhD in Biomedical Engineering


Sources :

Cox, R.C., Olatunji, B.O., A systematic review of sleep disturbance in anxiety and related disorders. J Anxiety Disord, 2016;37:104-29.

David A., Pelosi A., McDonald E., et al., Tired, weak, or in need of rest: fatigue among general practice attenders. BMJ, 1990;301(6762):1199‐1202.

Gruet M., Fatigue mentale : un facteur pouvant favoriser les comportements sédentaires en situation de confinement liée à la pandémie de COVID-19. 2020.

Kocalevent R.D., Hinz A., Brähler E., Klapp B.F., Determinants of fatigue and stress. BMC Res Notes, 2011;4:238.

Kuo B.C., Coping, acculturation, and psychological adaptation among migrants: a theoretical and empirical review and synthesis of the literature. Health Psychol Behav Med, 2014;2(1):16‐33.

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