For almost two months, most of us have felt ants in our legs from staying at home. But now, now that the golden cage has opened, some are dragging their feet to get out, baying crows under their masks in public transport, or even coming to regret their duvets at 8 am when they arrive at the office. How to explain such exhaustion? Why did our forces vanish when we were almost all trapped between four walls? Answers with the researcher in social psychology Christophe Haag (1) and the chronobiologist Claire Leconte.
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In video, how do the French experience confinement?
Inflow of energy-consuming fears
If your pedometer shows an almost zero counter after confinement, this is not necessarily the case for your emotions. According to social psychology researcher Christophe Haag, the period awoke "fairly impactful" mental fears, such as that of dying, losing a loved one or even economic anxieties. "When faced with a threat, the human brain needs two sources of fuel to react and flee: oxygen and sugar," said the specialist. In order to restock, the organism will therefore make more demands on the bronchi, draw on the fat store from the liver and speed up the heart rate. Thus repeated, this influx of negative emotions has the effect of stopping the machine. "This emotional intensity prevents the brain from relaxing, just like the muscles which remain in continuous tension until the backlash and the appearance of fatigue," underlines Christophe Haag.
Disruption of the biological clock
In high doses, anger, frustration and even sadness have a direct impact on the biological clock. "Under the effect of emotion, we release dopamine and it disrupts the brain's processing of time," observes the researcher in social psychology. Result: we go to bed and get up later. "We damage deep sleep in this way, responsible for renewing the psychic and muscular system," says chronobiologist Claire Leconte.
When you return to work, like when you return from vacation, resynchronizing this clock takes time, two weeks on average according to the specialist, provided that you do not ignore the signs of fatigue every night (cold, rubbing eyes) and keep the same times of getting up and going to bed, including weekends.
"Sporty" resumption of work
For those who have returned to work, recovery is sometimes difficult. The journey – once so short – from the bed to the living room table has lengthened and is accompanied by new physical interactions until arrival and throughout the day at the office. "The brain must manage these stimuli, which requires a period of rehabilitation, as for sports training," notes Christophe Haag. Muscle aches can also appear, especially if you have chosen to get on your bike or put on your sneakers to avoid public transport.
One stress replaces another
If the environment is changed, the psychological pressure also shifts. While some parents have dangerously flirted with burnout while taking over from school, or others have seen their telework schedules lengthen at high speed, most abandon their independence by returning to the office. "We find limited times with visible objectives and it is more difficult to take long breaks, in the sun to recharge melatonin for example, as we did during confinement," says Claire Leconte .
Lack of recognition
Not everyone has the chance to reconnect with the coffee machine and the canteen. "When teleworking is imposed, it can be experienced in an extremely negative way", assures Claire Leconte. "It takes merit to work when the professional sphere mixes so much with the private," adds social psychology researcher Christophe Haag. Many feel a lack of recognition towards their employer. This can feed a form of weariness and subsequently implies a reduction in motivation. ”
Promote relaxing rituals
Plunged into the files, we would almost forget the pandemic in which we live. This is the observation made by Jacqueline Gollan, professor of psychiatry at the University of Northwestern (Illinois, USA), in the columns of the Times. In an article published on April 30, she warns of the risk of "the fatigue of caution", or more precisely how exhaustion leads us to forget the rules of social distancing and barrier gestures. To avoid lowering the guard and releasing all these accumulated tensions, the chronobiologist recommends instituting relaxing rituals at the end of the day, yoga, self-massages or a hot bath. Analyzing one's emotional state is also beneficial. Christophe Haag advises to connect to the free Dr Mood app (available on Google Play Store or Apple Store) which helps to diagnose his emotions and explains how to detach or prolong it.
(1) Christophe Haag is also a professor at EM Lyon, and author of the book Emotional Contagion, Albin Michel editions, 456 pages, 21.90 euros, published in April 2019.