Both the intensity and the length of time of COVID-19 are taking their toll on everyone. We are tired of being cooped up, tired of being careful and fed up of being scared. Our collective fatigue is making some people careless and this is one reason COVID-19 numbers are still rising in some parts of the world.
However, facing this fatigue is important for one’s personal health and for beating the coronavirus that has shaken life so completely. Many people understand this, which adds to their exhaustion and stress.
Abnormal is the new normal
However, that does not mean we do not have ways to help ourselves and others. It starts with understanding why many people feel so frazzled. Knowing why we feel that everything is abnormal can help us feel normal.
There are two kinds of stress that have a long-term effect on our mental well-being and physical health – intense stress and prolonged stress – and we have both. This is compounded by uncertainty about almost everything.
At the same time, many of the things people generally do to cope, the activities people enjoy and give life meaning have changed or are now off limits, or have become unaffordable
“This is a real challenge,” said Kaye Hermanson, psychologist at UC Davis Health in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “There are no easy solutions.”
The stages of disaster stress
There is research that defines the stages of stress on communities that have experienced disasters. If it makes anyone feel better, as a society, we are right on target.
Kaye says that early, during or right after a disaster, communities tend to pull together. People support each other and create a sense of community bonding. Think back to the first weeks of the stay-at-home orders when everyone in neighbourhoods waved to everyone else.
“Eventually, that heroic spirit wears thin as the difficulties and stress build up. That is when we hit the disillusionment phase,” Kaye adds. “We lose our optimism and start to have negative or angry reactions. We ask, ‘What are they doing to fix this? How long will this last?’”
That is about where we now stand as a society. “Many people are exhausted by it all,” she says. “Some are saying they don’t care if they get COVID-19. They would rather risk getting sick than stay home or be careful. Others have simply stopped listening to health leaders and science.”
Research shows that disillusionment can last up to a year from the start of a disaster. This pandemic is like nothing we’ve experienced before – and it’s not over yet.
How to cope
“We can help ourselves,” Kaye explains. “We’ve heard this before, but it’s true: It’s time to develop coping skills.” These include:
• Exercise: It’s the number one best thing we can do for coping. Any exercise – even a simple walk – helps. It releases endorphins and gets rid of some of the adrenaline when the frustration builds up. Just getting out and moving can be really helpful for people.
• Talking: Talking out loud is important, so find the right places and times and do it. Ignoring feelings does not make them go away. It is like trying to hold a beachball underwater. Eventually you lose control and it pops out – and you can’t control where it goes or who it hits.
• Constructive thinking: We may think it is the situation that causes our feelings, but actually, our feelings come from our thoughts about the situation. We can’t change the situation, but we can adjust our thinking. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Remind yourself, “I’m doing the best I can”.
• Mindfulness and gratitude: The more you do this, the easier it gets. Try being in the moment. You are right here, in this chair, breathing and looking around. We put ourselves through a lot of unnecessary misery projecting into the future or ruminating about the past. For now, just take life day by day.
“We have a tendency to get down on ourselves,” Kaye says. “If you’re someone who never cries and suddenly you’re in tears or if small things make you super angry – these are signs that you need to reach out and talk to somebody.”
Pandemic fatigue is real and it is draining to stay on high alert month after month after month. Understanding it better might help you strengthen your resolve.
Our sincere thanks and appreciation to Kaye Hermanson from UC Davis Health, a psychologist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Visit their website for more tips on coping with Covid Fatigue:
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