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  • Writer's pictureEmma Wyhoon

Don't allow fatigue to be your new normal

As welcome as the return to normality is for many of us and the lessening of restrictions, there are a number of associated hazards in doing so; there is a lot of information circulating on the implications for mental health, hygiene, and infection control.

Another consideration that needs discussion as we move back into the world of work and the faster pace of life as business ramps up again, is that of fatigue management.

Our lives have been changed recently with the prevalence of working from home and for those businesses that have been open throughout the lockdown periods, foreseeably, experiencing less traffic through their doors. In short, the pace of our world slowed down a little bit.

Routines have changed, many of us have had a taste of a not so hectic lifestyle, and changing this could be difficult.

I know that personally, I have reverted to being a night owl, working and studying until the early hours, waking up later than usual, and then heading into my home office with a bowl of cereal and a coffee to begin my day in my comfiest trackie pants and t-shirt all requiring little forethought and planning.

With the world beginning to open up again, I, as will many others, have to readjust routines to suit our integration back into normal business hours/operations and this is where fatigue risks come into play.

Fatigue poses a very real fit for work issue, it is an acute and/or ongoing state of tiredness that leads to mental or physical exhaustion and prevents people's capacity to perform both mental and physical tasks in a safe manner.

Fatigue is often caused by a number of factors that are cumulative; in the context of returning to daily living post-COVID19 lockdown, fatigue can be the result of the disruption of the body’s natural sleep rhythms, new work schedules or returning to work schedules, type of tasks/duration of the tasks (changes to operations and time between job tasks), work environment (social distancing, changed workplace designs), emotional stress (anxiety or work stress) and/or non-work-related issues (family commitments, health, etc.).

The first step in ensuring the management of fatigue is to identify it, typically, the onset of physical and behavioural indicators can identify if a person is feeling the effects of fatigue. Indicators can include;

Physical signs – Frequent yawning, drooped head or eyelids, rubbing one’s eyes, and microsleeps (unnoticed periods of sleep lasting less than one second to 30 seconds)

Mental and performance signs – Difficulty or inability to concentrate on tasks, inattention, compromised memory and recall, forgetting to communicate important information, and incorrectly performing known tasks.

Emotional and behavioural signs – Becoming uncharacteristically quiet, withdrawn or moody; low energy; and lacking the motivation to perform work and other tasks.

The first combatant to fatigue is obviously, getting good quality, adequate sleep. It is recommended to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal performance. Here are some tips to help you get a good nights rest -

Re-setting your sleep routine

If you have noticed that your sleep, wake cycle has changed (i.e. night owl or waking during night) you may need to retrain your sleep patterns.

To do this you may have to pre-determine your bedtime, Ensure that you stick to the same sleep, wake time schedule as far as reasonably practical.

If you find you have difficulty falling asleep try -

- having a hot bath or shower before bed,

- Drinking a cup of hot tea before bed

- Remove distractions such as television, mobile phones, etc from the bedroom

- Some light reading

- Practicing mediation or relaxation breathing

- Use of phone applications that support sleep (The Calm app has several resources for example)

Avoid naps during the day to facilitate tiredness at night and if necessary use the weekends for sleep recovery and to catch up on sleep debt as needed.

If you are experiencing fatigue during the day, the following self-management techniques may help get you through ;

Drink plenty of water – sometimes you feel tired simply because you’re mildly dehydrated. A glass of water will help do the trick, especially after physical exertion.

Move more, sit less – reduce sedentary behaviours such as using computers, and break up long bouts of sitting by going for a walk or changing the type of job tasks

Try a gentle stretching regime – moving your body and stretching can help you feel less tired and get the blood circulating.

Grab a coffee - one or two caffeinated drinks such as soda, coffee, or tea during the day can boost your mental alertness and energy level.

Have an energy-boosting snack - appropriately timed snacks may be helpful in staying awake, Large meals can make you drowsy Try eating smaller meals and more healthy snacks throughout the day for more sustained energy.

Chat to a colleague – Social interaction is a great way to stay awake and re-connect with colleagues, gather using social distancing, make a phone call, or set a video chat.

Listen to music – listening to upbeat music that you enjoy stimulates the mind and can also help you stay awake.

Hopefully, fatigue will be short-lived if experienced, however, fatigue can have serious health implications and pose a risk to your safety and the safety of others if not managed. This is especially so if you are driving, operating machinery, or undertaking high-risk work.

It is important that additional support is sourced if fatigue is ongoing. At work, speak to your manager or the workplace health and safety personnel for support. Your local general practitioner (GP/Doctor) is also a good source of support and can also help eliminate any underlying health contributors to fatigue.

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