Crisis Fatigue, Stress, & the Fear of Uncertainty

Few can escape the impact of the sheer number of emotionally demanding situations we’ve experienced this year. So far, 2020 has been a year of unthinkable tragedies and unrelenting stress, with no signs of letting up. Raging wildfires. A global pandemic. Rising death tolls. Rapid change. Long periods of isolation. Political and economic turmoil. Nationwide protests. Murder hornets. It’s no wonder so many people are struggling to cope! When everything seems uncertain, and chaos appears to rule each day, it’s normal to start to feel numb or detached. It’s called crisis fatigue, and people are experiencing it all over the world.

What is Crisis Fatigue?

Crisis fatigue is a form of burnout, which is the term for experiencing a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Feelings of disillusionment, negativity, exhaustion, and sleeplessness are all signs you may be experiencing crisis fatigue.

When the fear of uncertainty has you constantly feeling stressed and anxious, irritability, frustration, and chronic fatigue aren’t far behind. Here’s why: in response to a stressful or dangerous situation, the brain floods the bloodstream with cortisol and adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ survival hormones. High cortisol levels leave us in a state of hypervigilance and alertness that can cause sleep deprivation.

Every day we speak to people who report, “stress is keeping me from sleeping.” Since our brains and bodies need rest to reset, rejuvenate, and recover, insomnia can quickly become a threat to our health. If you’ve ever wondered ‘how does someone get insomnia,’ well, it should come as no surprise that stress plays a starring role. Here’s what happens when people who are chronically stressed attempt to sleep. 

It’s no surprise that stress and sleep disorders go hand in hand. Chronic stress and anxiety disrupt normal bodily functions. When we’re trying to rest, high levels of cortisol can prevent the brain from effectively shutting down into sleep mode. Instead, the chronically stressed brain will often kick into overdrive to process all of the madness. We’re left worrying. Tossing and turning. Staring at the ceiling. 

Chronic sleep loss can make everything feel that much more overwhelming, leading to mental and even physical burnout. Over the long term, chronic stress can lead to serious health conditions including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Depression

While a variety of factors contribute to these health conditions, sleep deprivation may be a major contributor because it raíses stress levels.

Cushing Syndrome & Stress

Cushing syndrome is caused by long term exposure to high levels of the hormone cortisol. Also known as hypercortisolism, Cushing syndrome occurs when your body begins to routinely make too much cortisol on its own, or due to the use of oral corticosteroid medications. Long term stress can burn out your body’s normal response to perceived threats or dangers. Eventually, the brain’s constant fight or flight hormone response becomes your new normal state. In some severe cases, many people will develop Cushing syndrome. 

Common signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome include severe fatigue, depression, anxiety, and irritability, as well as impaired cognitive abilities. Common physical signs include weight gain, a rounded ‘moon face’ appearance, fatty midsection, and upper back, and pink or purple stretch marks on the skins of the thighs, abdomen, breasts, and arms. Cushing syndrome can cause decreased libido and fertility in men, as well as Erectile Dysfunction. Women may experience increased body and facial hair growth, as well as irregular or cessation of the menstrual cycle. Regular, deep, restful sleep can help your body begin to heal itself from Cushing syndrome and reset the brain’s abnormal cortisol production response to its normal parameters.

In closing, with all the uncertainty, stress, and crisis fatigue people are experiencing, it’s essential to get help before cortisol wreaks havoc on your overall health. If you’re stressed and losing sleep regularly, it’s time to book a consultation with a professional sleep therapist. We offer a full range of care from consultation to treatment and counseling — in-house or virtually — to get you and your health back on track and sleeping soundly.

Want more tips and techniques for getting better sleep when you’re stressed? Click Here

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