How to Overcome Pandemic Fatigue

3 minute read

If you are feeling chronically tired, you aren’t alone. As we adjust to new guidelines and policies arising from the constant quick changes imposed by the pandemic, all of us are likely experiencing pandemic fatigue. Maybe you are making more impulsive decisions than usual, or just feeling more apathetic in general.
 
As humans, our brains are not adapted to be in constant stress. “From an evolutionary perspective, cortisol and adrenaline prepare the body for the infamous fight or flight syndrome. However, when our bodies remain in crisis mode — which has been five months for most of us — cortisol and adrenaline can wreak havoc on our physical and mental wellbeing because the threat remains very real and pervasive on a global scale.” Coupled with the uncertainty of constantly changing guidelines and information, this increased stress can be highly detrimental to our health, leading to poor decision-making, burnout, and other negative health consequences. 
 
Research finds that we tend to experience phases of emotional response to crises. Right after the impact of a disaster or crisis, we tend to enter a “heroic” phase, in which individuals band together to determine how to get through this crisis. We then enter a “honeymoon” stage, where there is a sense of camaraderie and bonding amongst people. Shortly after, we enter a “disillusionment” phase where people start to feel physically and emotionally exhausted, with optimism giving way to discouragement. At this stage, we are more likely to be burned out and engage in risky behaviours. This stage can last months, and even years. 
 
So, what can we do to buffer these negative impacts?
 
First, we need to be more empathetic than ever. Instead of letting emotions flare, we need to understand the “contextual factors that affect both a person’s decisions and their risk of coronavirus transmission. Some people are seeking human contact outside of their households because of intense loneliness, anxiety...some people can’t comply with public-health guidance because of structural factors, including systemic racism, that render physical distancing a privilege.” Moreover, as the pandemic drags on, we are likely to face decision-making fatigue, where we are exhausted from the constant risk assessment, and make more impulsive decisions. We need to focus on what tools we have that can help reduce and buffer potential harms, like meeting up outside instead of an indoor gathering, and wearing masks in places where it’s difficult to socially distance.
 
Second, focus on your wellness. This might be making sure you are getting enough good quality sleep, using those vacation days for a “staycation,” or connecting with a few friends outdoors. It’s incredibly important to stay socially connected, because at times of increased anxiety and fatigue, it can be easy to withdraw and isolate ourselves. Ensure you make time to engage in activities that you enjoy. Other ways you can elevate your mood include making sure you get enough aerobic exercise, shifting your mindset from “I have to be” to “I get to be,” and planning something that you look forward to. “The significant boost in happiness people feel during a trip’s planning stages is likely due to looking forward to the good times ahead. While we are currently limited in our ability to take vacations to distant locations, we can still apply the principle and benefit from planning local trips or other events that we enjoy.”
 
While we don’t know what the next few months might look like, we do have control over our mindset, and how we choose to spend our time. The pandemic has brought out numerous different articles suggesting different strategies, skills, and actions we should take to improve our situations. One important fact to remember is that we are ultimately in control of our own choices. Rather than repetitively thinking that you “should” be taking certain actions, such as going to the gym or finishing that project you’ve been procrastinating, reframe your mindset to “could” take an action. The freedom of choice allows space for reflection and provides us with a sense of control over our lives, something we all are yearning for in a time of uncertainty. 

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