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COVID-19: Ways to cope with pandemic fatigue

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Written by Jennifer Palisoc

“I’m so over it.”

Have you heard anyone say this about the COVID-19 pandemic? You may have said it yourself. You’re not alone.

Pandemic life can be stressful and overwhelming. Our day-to-day routines have been disrupted and we continue to face challenges and change. It’s not surprising that many people are feeling tired of the pandemic and saying that they’re “just done” or that they’re “so over it.”

It’s what’s known as COVID fatigue or pandemic fatigue. It’s not a clinical diagnosis but a phenomenon identified during COVID-19. While it is still extremely important to take precautions and prevent the spread of the virus, knowing why this fatigue happens and how to battle it, in addition to the arsenal of properly wearing a mask, washing your hands and physically distancing, can help us get through this pandemic.

What is COVID or pandemic fatigue?

“Pandemic fatigue occurs when something we thought was going to be short-lived, is now a more chronic or longer-term situation than expected,” explains Dr. Karen Wang, youth psychiatrist. “There are numerous changes to daily life and this contributes to cognitive loading and mental exhaustion. People gradually grow tired of safety measures over time because it takes a lot of mental effort to maintain a high level of awareness.”

Dr. Wang says there is more to consider in our everyday lives compared to pre-COVID days. We can’t just get up and go as we did in the past – there’s a lot more planning involved.

For example, before we step outside of the house, a few thoughts may include: Did I remember to pack a mask? Do I have hand-sanitizer? Perhaps we’re also thinking about who we are going to interact with during the day, the changes in our work routine, or if we may face a long line-up at the grocery store.

“Other factors that contribute to pandemic fatigue include changes to our usual coping strategies. Activities we would engage in to give us a sense of connectedness, enjoyment and hope, have changed or been put off limits.”

Ways to cope with COVID fatigue

Maintain a routine: Keeping a regular daily schedule in a time of crisis can help us feel a sense of control. This can include a consistent bedtime and wake time to help improve sleep. Ensure there is time off technology. Factor in exercise and healthy meals.  Establish boundaries between work and rest periods. In a time when things can be unpredictable, having a routine can provide a semblance of stability.

Acknowledge and accept emotions: The abrupt change in daily life can lead to feelings of disappointment and loss. “The lack of opportunities to connect in person; to celebrate important milestones; having to cancel and postpone future plans can contribute to an overwhelming sense of grief. It is important to acknowledge and accept our own emotions without self-criticism and judgment,” says Dr. Wang. “Your feelings are valid. Try not to minimize or discount them. Rather, seek to understand the source of your frustration. If you are finding it difficult to cope, reach out to family, friends, support groups and your health care provider for help.”

Self-care: Taking part in activities we enjoy helps to improve mental and emotional well-being, as well as physical health. This can involve going outside for a walk, dancing, journaling, drawing, connecting safely with family and friends and staying social even if you’re physically distant. Consider using music as way to cope. Good self-care can help improve mood and anxiety.

Find the good: A little positivity can go a long way in boosting your mental health. Try to think of some positive moments in recent months. Have you explored your neighbourhood more? Perhaps discovered new places in your city? Do you have less of a commute or maybe have had an opportunity to spend more time with the family because you’re working from home? To help deal with stress, fear and anxiety, it’s important to try and find happiness in challenging times.

Reach out for help: If feelings of stress and anxiety become overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, family member or your health care team for guidance and support. Help can also be found through community resources.

The power of focusing on the present

Dr. Wang also recommends focusing on the present moment as a way to get through stressful and overwhelming times.

“Consider taking each day as it comes,” says Dr. Wang. “There’s often a pressure that we have to get things back to where they were before, but if anything, the pandemic has shown us that life often takes unexpected detours. Learning to be grateful and mindful of the present moment takes practice but it can change our outlook for each day.”

It isn’t easy getting through this pandemic and everyone manages stress and anxiety in their own way. There’s a lot we can’t control, but being mindful of the things we can control, such as taking preventative measures and taking steps each day to cope with the uncertainty, can be helpful for all of us to get through this pandemic together.

If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources:

    • Phone: 24-hour, toll-free 1-833-456-4566
    • Text: 45645 (4:00 pm – midnight Eastern Time)

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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