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Not much is happening in self-isolation. So why are you still so tired?
Thankfully, there are ways to combat mental and physical fatigue, even in isolation.
- With tens of millions of Americans sheltering at home, many people feel exhausted.
- Reasons range from a lack of routine, emotional uncertainty, poor nutrition, and alcohol abuse.
- Keeping your daily habits in place as much as possible is important for combating lethargy.
Who knew that not leaving your house could be so exhausting? There are many reasons many of us are tired right now. We've long known about the detrimental effects of not enough sleep, but even too much sleep results in cognitive decline. But what you do during the day affects how well your night goes.
This collective exhaustion is about much more than sleep. Fatigue is not necessarily tied to how much shut-eye you receive each night (though that does help, or hurt). Isolation is never healthy. Humans are social animals. The rush to Instagram Live for DJ battles and concerts and Zoom for fitness classes and family reunions is a beautiful thing. Still, we need real contact. That's one important factor.
As with everything, this too shall pass. For now, maintaining good physical and mental health is key to keeping your energy levels up and your mind focused. Exhaustion isn't going to help your immune system, which is of extreme importance right now. Below are six reasons you might be feeling tired, and how to help correct that.
Optimize Your Brain: The Science of Smarter Eating | Dr. Drew Ramsey
Here Comes the Sun
While many cities have promoted outdoor exercise, some have shut down parks, trails, and beaches (as is the case here in Los Angeles). While there is an ongoing debate over safe distance protocols continues, we know that a lack of sunlight can cause depression. It might be Spring, but if you don't have access to outdoor space to walk and exercise, you might be negatively impacted. Reduced activity slows your metabolism, adding to the sluggishness; less daylight also reduces melatonin and serotonin production in your brain, which could further provoke anxiety and depression.
Cure: If you can get outside once a day, even for a walk around the block, do so. As for movement, streaming classes have never been more popular. You can find just about any format you desire on Instagram Live or YouTube. Plenty of world-class instructors are selling classes on Zoom. A little movement goes a long way. (With Equinox being closed, I've been teaching three live-stream yoga classes a week, which are all archived on my YouTube channel.)
Humans are habitual animals. We feel out of our element when our schedules are thrown off. Adjusting to a new routine sometimes bring a sense of refreshment, but given the stress many of us are feeling financially—22 million Americans have filed for employment in just four weeks—it can seem hard to muster the energy to stick to a routine. Still, maintaining a routine is important, and when it's thrown off, time assumes a new meaning.
Cure: Try to institute as many habitual practices as possible. You've likely heard to shower and dress every day, and those are important. Setting a regular sleep schedule and alarm is helpful. Stick to what you can but also try to find new ways of creating healthy habits along the way. It's amazing how quickly new routines become habitual as well.
Speaking of health, it appears that the most dangerous underlying condition for experiencing the worst COVID-19 symptoms, besides old age, is obesity. As the NY Times reports, "New studies point to obesity as the most significant risk factor, after only older age, for patients being hospitalized with Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus." Sales of processed foods, pretzels, and popcorn are all up while produce is rotting. Overeating and eating processed, sugary foods both negatively impact our energy levels, creating a feeling of lethargy.
Cure: Restricting calories and closing your feeding window are two important means for losing weight and gaining energy. We all need to keep our immune systems as strong as possible right now. As Dr. Drew Ramsey, who practices nutritional psychiatry, says, the food categories he recommends include leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and small fish, especially sardines and anchovies. He likes to see a "rainbow of colors" on every plate. And if you need a quick start to this process, one that will also help you deal with emotional eating, might I suggest the Potato Hack?
Signs at a bar thank medical workers and advertises liquor to go on April 15, 2020, in New York City.
Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
In the immediate aftermath of sheltering at home orders, alcohol sales shot up 55 percent, with liquor and spirits up 75 percent, wine up 66 percent, and beer up 42 percent. Overall, online alcohol sales saw an increase of 243 percent. While that trend has slowed somewhat, we're still imbibing: One in three Americans report drinking more while in isolation. Since alcohol destroys your REM cycles, you won't get that deep and restful sleep your body needs.
Cure: Don't drink. At least not as much, and not every day. An old friend of mine told me that in Jamaica, whenever her family or friends have a craving for food or alcohol, they drink tea. Amazingly, it seems to work, at least in my own experiences. Keeping yourself mentally occupied with a crossword puzzle or Sodoku (or a game of chess, if you have someone to play against) is a useful distraction. Exercise is also a wonderful way to get your mind focused on a healthier endeavor.
Cure: We're not giving up our screens. As the NY Times suggests, a "three Cs" approach could work. Sure, not everyone has Children, but Content and Context are applicable. Stay up to date with credible news sources. You just don't have to log on every hour, or even every day. Don't drop off, however. Civic engagement has never been more important. Just make sure to give your eyes a break.
Bill Gates and the 5G Cartel
Conspiracy theories are tiring. The Bill Gates created 5G to depopulate the world so that survivors would have to be microchipped when getting his vaccine thread just exhausted me to write. The rabbit hole these theories lead down is doing no one any good.
Cure: Not everything you don't agree with is part of the "mainstream" media. We (rightfully) applaud health care workers putting their lives at risk. Reporters might not be as close to the virus, but they're still putting their health on the line to keep us informed. A tiny bit of research does wonders for your mental health—and that of everyone on your social media feeds. Question everything, sure, including yourself.
- COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression, and the ... ›
- Mentally exhausted? Here's how to cope... - Big Think ›
- Greener play areas could boost children's' immune systems - Big Think ›
- Why we find information overload so exhausting - Big Think ›
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.
- Private prisons in Mississippi tend to hold prisoners 90 days longer than public ones.
- The extra days eat up half of the expected cost savings of a private prison.
- The study leaves several open questions, such as what affect these extra days have on recidivism rates.
The United States of America, land of the free, is home to 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners. The cost of having so many people in the penal system adds up to $80 billion per year, more than three times the budget for NASA. This massive system exploded in size relatively recently, with the prison population increasing by six-fold in the last four decades.
Ten percent of these prisoners are kept in private prisons, which are owned and operated for the sake of profit by contractors. In theory, these operations cost less than public prisons and jails, and states can save money by contracting them to incarcerate people. They have a long history in the United States and are used in many other countries as well.
However, despite the pervasiveness of private contractors in the American prison system, there is not much research into how well they live up to their promise to provide similar services at a lower cost to the state. The little research that is available often encounters difficulties in trying to compare the costs and benefits of facilities with vastly different operations and occasionally produces results suggesting there are few benefits to privatization.
A new study by Dr. Anita Mukherjee and published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy joins the debate with a robust consideration of the costs and benefits of private prisons. Its findings suggest that some private prisons keep people incarcerated longer and save less money than advertised.
The study focuses on prisons in Mississippi. Despite its comparatively high rate of incarceration, Mississippi's prison system is very similar to that of other states that also use private prisons. Demographically, its system is representative of the rest of the U.S. prison system, and its inmates are sentenced for similar amounts of time.
The state attempts to get the most out of its privatization efforts, as a 1994 law requires all contracts for private prisons in Mississippi to provide at least a 10 percent cost savings over public prisons while providing similar services. As a result, the state seeks to maximize its savings by sending prisoners to private institutions first if space if available.
While public and private prisons in Mississippi are quite similar, there are a few differences that allow for the possibility of cost savings by private operators — not the least of which is that the guards are paid 30 percent less and have fewer benefits than their publicly employed counterparts.
The results of privatization
The graph depicts the likelihood of release for public (dotted line) vs. private (solid line) prison inmates. At every level of time served, public prisoners were more likely to be released than private prisoners.Dr. Anita Mukherjee
The study relied on administrative records of the Mississippi prison system between 1996 and 2013. The data included information on prisoner demographics, the crimes committed, sentence lengths, time served, infractions while incarcerated, and prisoner relocation while in the system, including between public and private jails. For this study, the sample examined was limited to those serving between one and six years and those who served at least a quarter of their sentence. This created a primary sample of 26,563 bookings.
Analysis revealed that prisoners in private prisons were behind bars for four to seven percent longer than those in public prisons, which translates to roughly 85 to 90 extra days per prisoner. This is, in part, because those in private prison serve a greater portion of their sentences (73 percent) than those in public institutions (70 percent).
This in turn might be due to the much higher infraction rate in private prisons compared to public ones. While only 18 percent of prisoners in a public prison commit an infraction, such as disobeying a guard or possessing contraband, the number jumps to 46 percent in a private prison. Infractions can reduce the probability of early release or cause time to be added to a sentence.
It's unclear why there are so many more infractions in private prisons. Dr. Mukherjee suggests it could be the result of "harsher prison conditions in private prisons," better monitoring techniques, incentives to report more of them to the state before contract renewals, or even a lackadaisical attitude on the part of public prison employees.
What does all this cost Mississippi?
The extra time served eats 48 percent of the cost savings of keeping prisoners in a private facility. For example, it costs about $135,000 to house a prisoner in a private prison for three years and $150,000 in the public system. But longer stays in private prisons reduce the savings from $15,000 to only $7,800.
As Dr. Mukherjee remarks, this cost is also just the finance. Some things are a little harder to measure:
"There are, of course, other costs that are difficult to quantify — e.g., the cost of injustice to society (if private prison inmates systematically serve more time), the inmate's individual value of freedom, and impacts of the additional incarceration on future employment. Abrams and Rohlfs (2011) estimates a prisoner's value of freedom for 90 days at about $1,100 using experimental variation in bail setting. Mueller-Smith (2017) estimates that 90 days of marginal incarceration costs about $15,000 in reduced wages and increased reliance on welfare. If these social costs were to exceed $7,800 in the example stated, private prisons would no longer offer a bargain in terms of welfare-adjusted cost savings."
It is possible that the extra time in jail provides benefits that counter these costs, such as a reduced recidivism rate, but this proved difficult to determine. Though it was not statistically significant, there was some evidence that the added time actually increased the rate of recidivism. If that's true, then private prisons could be counterproductive.