Fatigue is a major concern for folks when in the middle of an emergency, disaster, or during a grid-down event. And the longer duration of the incident, the more fatigue and the worse the impact on a person from that fatigue.
But there are different kinds of fatigue. There is; 1) Food Fatigue, 2) Cognitive Fatigue, 3) Decision Fatigue. In this article I will just touch briefly on each…no need for lots of details, you can easily figure it out.
Food Fatigue –
This is a simple one, and you may have already suffered from it. Let’s say the grid went down…and you are in day 204. For breakfast you are again eating oatmeal. The eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, etc. are long gone…so oatmeal it is! Oh wait, the sugar is gone, the honey is gone, the raisins are gone, the fruit is gone… so it is just plain oatmeal…for the 90th straight morning.
Do you think that might get a little boring?
So for lunch you have soup…containing; dried carrots, wheat berries, and pinto beans…for the 92nd straight lunch.
Then for dinner you have stew…containing; dried carrots, dried onions, wheat berries, and black beans…for the 103rd straight dinner.
Yeah, all the salt, pepper, garlic, and other seasonings ran out 3 months ago. No chocolate, no Pepsi, no sugar, no honey, no candy, no cookies…not much of anything that makes meals and snacks great.
So do you think food and eating gets a little boring? Yeah, I think I do.
Now…another couple months later…how you doing? Yeah, that is food fatigue…eating the same boring food day after day. Sure, you are grateful for the food, at least it is something in your belly. But it is drudgery…boredom…and fatigue.
Food Fatigue is easily avoided…store and grow foods/herbs that keep meals interesting, tasty and enjoyable. Keep the ingredients around, or grow/acquire them, to make cookies once in a while. Hideaway some candy for long winter nights. Keep some Spam hidden for that morning you actually have real eggs to cook.
Cognitive Fatigue –
This is a condition that you can probably readily identify with…and more than likely you have already experienced it. Officially it is essentially the process of acquiring knowledge, thinking about it, processing it, coming to conclusions about the knowledge acquired. You could look at it as Situational Awareness overload. Many folks suffer from it at work due to an overload of information and/or tasking…or a very long day working with dummy folks in a stressful situation.
Cognitive fatigue can result in a person shutting down mentally and/or physically. Yup, it can get that bad. It comes from the brain being overloaded with information and its circuit breaker just flips off and a person goes into self-preservation mode mentally.
A good way to help fight cognitive fatigue, and fatigue in general, is to stay hydrated and eat right such as:
- Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols
- Berries with vitamin C and anthocyanins (blueberries are great)
- Foods that are high in antioxidants
- Foods with lots of vitamin B12 (eggs are great)
And you try and get decent rest if at all possible. Allow for some “down time” where sensory input is nonexistent or at least kept to a minimum.
Decision Fatigue –
This is the worst fatigue of all! And so designated for several reasons; 1) it disproportionately affects leaders, 2) it can lead to poor, even fatal, decision making, 3) can ultimately affect a whole group or family.
Decision fatigue is basically a condition where a person has to make too many decisions consistently over too long period of time. It can be a little hard to explain but it is easy to see when it is in front of you.
Say you are dealing with a protracted incident…example…two-weeks. And the leader of the group is constantly making decisions all day…every day…decisions, one after another. It is multiplied by a factor when the situation is, or could be, life-threatening. They have very short nights of sleep because people are constantly coming to them asking for decisions to be made and advice given. Pop! Their head explodes.
The results can be everything from poor decisions to angry outbursts to violence against people. Of course they could also simply shutdown entirely; virtually becoming uncommunicative. And how would any of that work out for the harmony of the group?
One of the reasons why wildland fire personnel are limited to 2-week deployments on fires is this very problem…especially among leadership. A special process is required to extend a deployment to 3-weeks…and it ain’t all that easy to get approved. Why? Because a wildland fire leader (i.e. Division Supervisor, Ops Chief, Type 3 Incident Commander, etc.) has a whole lot of responsibility, works 16 – 18 hours days, and gets asked a ton of questions all day long…not to mention the potential for loss of life and property.
Now imagine food/water shortage, no power, looting, bad weather, no stores open, potential for violence against your family, etc. See the potential for problems when it comes to making hundreds of decisions, great and small, all day long?
Ask anyone who has to, or has been, in a high state of readiness or has to maintain high Situational Awareness for days or weeks straight. It can wear you out. Ever hear the term “1000-yard stare”?
To avoid it you can:
- Delegate responsibility to qualified people and empower them to make decisions in their area of responsibility.
- Set aside time where you can be alone, quiet, and contemplative about other things than the situation.
- Maintain a “larger picture” or maintain an attitude of “the future” and how much better it is going to be.
- Get as much adequate sleep as possible.
- Stay hydrated and intake something along the lines of Gatorade (but not more than 1 Gatorade to 2 waters).
- Eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols.
- Eat berries with vitamin C and anthocyanins (blueberries are great).
- Eat foods that are high in antioxidants.
- Eat foods with lots of vitamin B12 (eggs are great).
Cognitive and decision fatigue can kill you…and/or those around you. You have to be able to recognize it, obviously. And from the very start you have to be able to combat it.
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat as well as possible.
- Get quality rest if at all possible.
- Have some down time to yourself. It doesn’t have to be long, just something.
- Spread the load around to those who are qualified…or can learn quickly.
- Have a good plan in-place before the incident.
- Ask others to monitor you for signs of fatigue…and listen to them.
Please don’t ignore food fatigue to keep people happy.
Please don’t ignore cognitive fatigue and decision fatigue to keep people alive.
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