Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today we’re hoping to help a reader who’s struggling with their new relationship to nightlife.
I’m dealing with an embarrassing issue. Ever since the pandemic started, I've been having a hard time staying up late.
What’s going on with me? I’ve been going out at least once a week since age 16, and up until two years ago. I would start out at the pub, roll over to a club, and after a few hours of dancing, I’d still have enough energy to talk to people until the sun came up.
These days I’m done by 11PM, no matter how fun the party is or how much I drink. Some weekend nights, I can’t even motivate myself to leave the house at all. I scroll through my Instagram feed and see my friends having a blast before I fall asleep on the couch. Fun stuff is finally happening again, but I’ve become the most boring no-show of all.
Sometimes I’m afraid that my circadian rhythm is completely off, other times I wonder if I’m depressed. I turned 31 this year, but that can’t be it, right?
All the best,
It’s not uncommon to have trouble starting up again after two years of pandemic - and this doesn’t necessarily have to do with your age. Yes, you’re in your 30s, but that doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly lost the ability to stay up late.
There are plenty of reasons that can explain your tiredness and turn you into a boring no-show, as you put it. Research shows that the pandemic has seriously affected our mental well-being. Studies also say we’ve moved much less in the past two years, which has negatively affected our bodies.
“Many people feel depleted right now,” says Amsterdam-based psychologist Jean-Pierre van de Ven. “You simply haven’t been doing as much recently, so your behavioural patterns have shifted. All of this can have an effect on your energy levels.”
According to Van de Ven, it’s important to first figure out if your tiredness is physical or mental. “I encourage you to go see a doctor so you can rule out any physical causes,” he says. Van de Ven mentions long COVID as a possible physical cause of your exhaustion. One study by the University of Bergen showed that 52 percent of people aged 16 to 30 still had symptoms six months after they got infected, including chronic tiredness, while other studies using different methods have found wildly different results ranging between 5 and 50 percent.
Once you’ve ruled out those factors, you can ask yourself how you’ve been feeling mentally. “Many people suffered from chronic stress [during the pandemic], because they were afraid of getting COVID, for instance,” Van de Ven says. “Your life changed completely in a very short amount of time: fewer social interactions, maybe less money because you weren’t working as much, or perhaps you even lost your job.”
According to Van de Ven, a lot of people struggle with the aftermath of a so-called “bore-out”: the physical symptoms that manifest after an extended period of being bored and understimulated. You can compare the symptoms of a bore-out to those of a burnout: You have no energy, you feel tired very quickly, and you can even experience headaches and have trouble sleeping. “If you’ve suffered from a bore-out, it can sometimes be hard to get moving again and start doing fun things,” he explains. “Just like after a burnout, you need to take time to get used to external stimuli again.”
It also doesn’t hurt to talk to a therapist about this. “You don’t have to suffer from serious mental health issues to seek out a therapist. You can also go and talk about things that make you feel insecure,” Van de Ven adds.
This advice certainly applies since you’re wondering whether or not you’re depressed. As a reminder, Van de Ven says you might be suffering from depression if you’ve been feeling down for more than two weeks and no longer feel like doing the things you used to enjoy. On top of that, sleep disturbances, fluctuating body weight, a very bleak outlook on the future or suicidal thoughts can all be symptoms of depression.
Van de Ven sees an increasing number of young people with exogenous depression – depression caused by external stressors. “They feel really bad because they’ve lost their job, or their relationship has ended, for instance,” he explains. Van de Ven says your letter doesn’t seem concerning to him, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take action if you don’t feel good about this.
However, there’s also a possibility that what you describe as “the good old days” were not so good after all. Were you regularly using drugs and alcohol back then? This could have been “a response to something that made you feel down, such as a bad relationship or trouble at work,” Van de Ven suggests.
The fact that you don’t feel the need to go out as much anymore might actually mean that you feel better now than you used to. Also, your body’s response to these stimulants might have changed. “If you use alcohol and drugs on a weekly basis for a long time, you can exhaust your body,” says Van de Ven.
Lastly, your extended evenings on the couch could definitely have something to do with your age, but not in the way that you fear. Maybe the pandemic years made you realise how wonderful Saturday evenings at home can be, or perhaps you enjoy having a full weekend off instead of just half a Sunday spent mostly hungover on the toilet.
It’s a big shift, and comparing your life now to the way it used to be might make you feel a tad old. But choosing a different way to spend your weekend doesn’t mean your days of youth are forever gone. Many young people don’t enjoy clubbing, and many older folks stay glued to the bar stool until the last call. It’s up to you to figure out what brings you joy.