As a personal trainer, the first time I meet a potential client I am not only meeting them, but their perspective of themselves and all the myriad emotions that come with it. Opening discussions can be raw: full of hope, disappointment, and a sense of frustration. I am lucky enough to say that I have been in this profession long enough that I can reflect on what drives people to seek out training now compared to pre-covid and one phrase that I consistently hear from new clients now is "I want to be back to how I was before the pandemic". The seismic shift and psychological bruising from that era is still rearing it's ugly head and many people are finding themselves face to face with a desire to do something, but with no idea who they are now and of what they are capable.
The majority of my clients are women who, like myself, became teachers, emotional support systems, and martyrs to the family unit with no way to really practice self-care when the world shut down in 2020, and who now, 3 years later, are finally finding space to rediscover and prioritize themselves. However, it is irrefutable that 3 years of heightened stress takes it's toll on one's physical and emotional state, and can have profound repercussions on behavior change, motivation, and focus.
I'm not one to throw around this word blithely, but I think we can call a spade a spade: the pandemic was traumatic in many ways. When we experience trauma our endocrine systems kick into overdrive, and in particular, our adrenal glands. These beloved little glands are responsible for the production and excretion of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol: the hormones of stress. Working from home and quarantine, fear of getting ill, political turmoil; all of these contribute to an elevated level of stress from which many of us are just finally coming down. Prolonged stress and elevated adrenal activation creates an endocrine loop in which a person can get trapped. Symptoms of this state are slightly different in everyone, but fatigue, lack of concentration, and a short fuse are usually the first and most common ones. Sound familiar?
So, what can be done? Well, as I remind my clients: who we are now is not the same as who we were pre-pandemic and one can't expect to jump right back into an activity or lifestyle and be hitting all their same goals, feeling the same level of engagement, etc. What was considered a killer workout before may not be attainable yet and the key is patience and grace. The ultimate goal, pandemic or not, is to develop a lifelong love of movement and continually engage and challenge ourselves but with minimal stress or pressure. So, if you feel overwhelmed at even the thought of hitting the gym when you used to be a gym rat, well, maybe it is time to branch out and try something new. Hold space for yourself to be a new and dynamic person and don't hit your head against the wall trying to be something that you were before.
In summary, we all survived a global pandemic, and we will be feeling the ripple effects of it for years to come. So, show kindness to yourself when you are feeling stressed. Dance. Walk. Meditate. Nourish your body with whole foods. Prioritize yourself and your health. Whatever it takes to break out of that loop and finally meet this new and wonderful version of yourself.
Resources on Adrenal Fatigue: