Pandemic fatigue and why you are not alone

Just when you thought the pandemic was nearly over, the Delta variant is here to stop us in our optimistic tracks. Although some offices have re-opened and a new way of life is fast emerging, the pandemic is not over. For over a year, we have all, on some level, been fearing for our wellbeing and that of our loved ones. Those of us who are not comfortable with taking the risk of travelling haven’t seen our families or friends for over a year. Sure, we can all take solace in the fact that we are alive and well enough to be reading this (or writing) but nothing can take away from the fatigue we have all been feeling.

According to a KFF report, 4 in 10 adults have reported pandemic related challenges to their mental health. Incidences of insomnia, food disruptions and disorders, substance dependency and disruption have all gone up and people are struggling to cope with pandemic induced stress. If this does not make this topic worthy of our attention, I don’t know what does!

So, let’s talk a bit about pandemic fatigue and why you are not alone:

What is Pandemic Fatigue?

This report by the WHO, defines pandemic fatigue as “demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviors, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions”. Whilst the WHO report and publications by John Hopkins University focus on the more medical aspect of things, pandemic fatigue is more than that.

It is the physical fatigue that follows us during the day, it is the struggle to wake up early, it is insomnia and it is the constant feeling of dissatisfaction that follows us around. No matter how early we go to bed, eat healthy and how much we exercise, we feel ineffective and unaccomplished.

Why does Pandemic Fatigue Matter?

If you have been feeling just as well and productive as you did before the pandemic, you may wonder why this conversation matters at all? Why should you focus on the problems of other people? Why should you think about what is going on with the majority if you feel well? Well, you need to think about these things not for reasons of empathy, compassion etc. but for reasons of awareness. Even in the height of the pandemic lockdowns, we did not exist in strict isolation. We had video calls with family and friends, developed distant friendships with our neighbors, made regular trips to the grocery store, pharmacy etc., all of which brought us in some kind of contact with people.

In all these interactions, our pandemic fatigue followed us around like our shadow. Whether we were aware of it or not, as the lockdowns came and went through 2020 and travel restrictions persist into 2021, people’s resilience has gradually been wearing down. If you met someone who could not be bothered to say thank you, cut you off in traffic, was short or sharp in their manner of speaking, you may be inclined to think that they were simply ill-mannered. However, it is also entirely possible that they have been worn down by pandemic fatigue, by worry, by grief, by illness or even long Covid. Whilst you may not be able to help them, being aware that they may be struggling is enough to soften your attitude towards them. It may also help you feel better about yourself, as you need not take anything that anyone says personally.  

Now that you know what Pandemic fatigue is and why it matters, let’s take a look at what you can do about it:

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

I know everyone has probably heard this one too many times but seriously, stop being so hard on yourself. If on a day all you are able to do is work and eat, let yourself be proud of just that. Pushing yourself too hard when you are feeling low does not help anyone. If you do not feel like responding to any texts, don’t. If you are sending delayed responses to emails, it is what it is. If you have not called your friends in a few days, it is ok. You get the idea, do not push yourself to do anything you don’t want to. Acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and maybe heroism at this time just means that you get through the day.

Filter Out the Non-Essentials

Humans are social beings, we need interaction to feel alive. Covid related precautions have robbed us of two of the five senses we would normally engage. Add to that, the fact that to be responsible we have to limit our interactions and life really has come down to the basics.  This is the time to remember that this will not last forever but if we want to get through it with our health intact, we have to stick to what is essential. Focus on yourself, family you live with, some solitary hobbies that can be pursued at home, time out in nature and workouts that feel good. This is not the time to be thinking about that ambitious business plan that requires you to travel, aspirational workouts that sap the energy out of you or engaging in non-essential travel. This is a good time however, to map out your ideas, plan and strategize for everything you want to achieve. That will help keep you motivated and allow you to partially live in a realm that does not feel as uncomfortable.

Indulge Your Senses

The one thing that has personally helped me get through the year and continues to do so, is to indulge my senses at home. I may not have been strict about eating salad but have been strict about having a diffuser with my favorite azalea essential oil on all day. I may not have been strict about going for a run every day but I have made sure that I enjoy a good breakfast with tea and buttered toast, both of which brings me immense joy. When we experience pleasure, our brains release dopamine which is one of the five happy hormones. By giving yourself little sensory pleasures throughout the day, you will be able to keep your general mood and motivation levels high.

Watch Your Information Consumption

When feeling demotivated, it is very easy to open your phone and start scrolling through social media or worse, the news. Social media in itself is a fantastic tool but it will not help you feel any better when you are feeling unproductive. Social media is where people share the highlights of their lives, market their products and try to gain customers and followers by encouraging action amongst their audience. This is definitely not what you need when you feel like you are barely able to meet your daily commitments. Similarly, the news is full of bad news. Good news does not sell and as such instances of that on news networks are extremely rare. One cannot expect to open a news page or app and expect to be met with great news. Whilst both social media and news outlets are to some extent, essential, one does not need to spend hours on each every day. Watch how much you consume via both media to manage your moods and anxieties better.

Know When to Seek Help

This is said time and again and yet so many people do not reach out when they need help. Let me re-iterate something you need to hear, please reach out to someone when you simply cannot pull yourself out of the hole. Sometimes the simplest things make a big difference, write about your struggles in a journal, speak to a partner, bring it up with your doctor, whichever one feels comfortable is the right choice. Our single-minded focus on remaining positive can mask our need for external help. Recognize when your inner world may be getting too overwhelming for you and unburden a bit.

Keep Up the Precautions

As fatigued, annoyed and depressed as you may be feeling, now is not a good time to ditch the precautions. By popular consensus we are all fed up of the masks, dry hands from too much washing and sanitizing and capacity restrictions, but it would not be wise to simply ignore the safeguards. Even if you are fully vaccinated, you still carry the risk of contracting Covid and being a carrier so it becomes that much more essential to look after your physical health as much as your mental health.

In conclusion, it is always helpful to remember that you are not alone. Most people may say nothing and some may even pretend to be having a good time of it, everyone is struggling on some or the other level. This is the time for self-care and when possible to care for those you can, it is not the time to put any other pressure on yourself. You are not fragile, you are in preservation mode.

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