Pandemic Fatigue

Are you dealing with Pandemic Fatigue?

Lately people have been feeling like they are under a cloud, a very real feeling of exhaustion and lack of focus that seems to hang over every day. You might be feeling like you’re trudging from one day to the next. And that meme about 2020 lasting five years, while meant to be funny, feels like a reality. While you might not be able to quite place your finger on it, there is a very real explanation: you’ve got pandemic fatigue.

Pandemic fatigue comes, in part, from being stressed about the problems that the pandemic has caused. You’ve been on high alert for an extended period of time. The ever changing public health policies, fear of getting sick or worry about your job all contribute to the tension. After wrestling with all these concerns for an extended period, you just get mentally worn out. Other symptoms of pandemic fatigue include:

  • Eating or sleeping more than usual (Remember the joke about putting on the COVID 19 pounds?)
  • Trouble focusing or lack of concentration
  • Feeling edgy or nervous
  • Snapping at or arguing with others
  • Lack of motivation
  • Unable to stop racing thoughts
  • Withdrawing from others

Jeffrey Hubbell, LSCSW

“I’ve seen an increase in stress. An increase in anxiety and an increase in depression,” said Jeffrey Hubbell, GraceMed Director of Behavioral Health. “In addition, there seems to be a sense of hopelessness when it comes to the pandemic.”

While you may not be experiencing the full blown effects, everyone can relate to having pandemic fatigue on some level. The World Health Organization estimates that at least half the population is struggling with the effects of pandemic fatigue. “Thinking about it, I would say it’s more like 65 to 70%,” said Jeff. “Many people are somewhat numb, going through the motions every day, working and caring for their family. They don’t realize that they are also trying to cope with the addition of pandemic fatigue.” Dealing with the fear, uncertainty and lack of escape wears you down.

It all started when the pandemic first arrived. At first the novelty of new “non touch” greetings, zoom meetings and singing while hand-washing was an interesting distraction from the norm. Everyone adopted the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Neighborhoods blossomed with fun chalk drawings and entertaining bear hunts to help entertain kids stuck at home. Healthcare workers were adopted as the champions of the crusade to overcome the coronavirus.

But months later, as mask mandates have been enacted and proven treatments allude us, it’s not really that “novel” anymore. The nightly news continues to report increases averaging 5% or more across the United States. People are making sacrifices because of the virus, some of these have come at a huge cost like not being able to visit with loved ones who depend on those regular encounters. And there are those who have endured the ultimate sacrifice of losing a loved one to coronavirus, often without being there for a final good-bye.

Now, as winter approaches, bringing with it the holidays and flu season, there are indications that some people are just done listening to the guidance. The apathy and the lack of diversions like movies, concerts and etc., is leading to risky behavior. As cases are going up again, contact tracing reveals that people are now getting sick from simply trying to add some sense of normalcy to their lives. Common sources of the virus include birthday parties and other family gatherings. It’s all in an effort to alleviate the fatigue.

None of us have control over the pandemic. We have very little input to public health policy. But we all have control of how we’ll respond. If you are feeling the effects of pandemic fatigue, there are some things you can do to ease the symptoms.

  • Take care of yourself. Eat as healthy as you can and exercise daily. Even getting out and taking a refreshing walk around the block can give you a chance to regroup.
  • Give yourself a break from those daily doses of the news and scrolling through social media. By doing so you’ll be able to adopt a more positive outlook which can help lift the fatigue.
  • Alleviate feelings of isolation by using Facetime or Zoom to set up calls with friends. Call up a friend or two and watch a movie virtually together. Or have friends bring lawn chairs for an outside, distanced gathering.
  • Find things to be grateful for. This can help reframe your thoughts to the positive.
  • Find things to laugh about. It’s true that laughter is good medicine as it releases endorphins and reduces stress hormones which help alleviate fear and anxiety.

“The people who seem to be doing well have managed to put themselves in a positive bubble,” said Jeff. “They don’t watch the news, and they express gratitude.”

We’ve been dealing with COVID-19 for more than 200 days. It’s understandable that everyone is just done. Without a vaccine or treatment that works, the best way to remain healthy is to follow the advice of experts. Trying to stick to something that takes extra effort and isn’t necessarily comfortable is always a challenge. And it’s even more difficult when no one you know is sick. But, these precautions work. And remember that the risk is real, so it’s worth it to you and your loved ones to follow best practices however long it takes.

If you find that you’re having difficulty dealing with pandemic fatigue, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. It’s okay to ask for help, you are most certainly not alone.