Signs of Pandemic Fatigue

November 5, 2020

Signs of Pandemic Fatigue

“I am old, Gandalf. I don't look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
After months of dealing with the pandemic, many individuals are experiencing exhaustion stemming from the effects of COVID-19 on daily life. Struggling with intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, loneliness and helplessness are causing pandemic fatigue. In recent weeks, I have heard comments such as:
"My classes feel easier and I am getting great grades, but it doesn't seem to matter. I don't like being on campus... I hate wearing a mask... and there is no reason to be there anyway, nothing is happening, no events, nothing"
"I am hiding my depression so that others don't know..."
"I started crying in class today... I don't know why... I couldn't stop."
"I just can't get motivated to do what I need to do. I don't want to do anything."
The hallmark sign of this pandemic fatigue is a sense of inner weariness. You may be feeling helpless, sad, worried, frustrated, irritable or just plain "blah." You may also notice these signs:
  • Eat or sleep more or less than usual
  • Have difficulty focusing (brain fog)
  • Feel edgy or nervous
  • Snap at or argue with others
  • Lack motivation
  • Unable to stop racing thoughts
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Not as diligent about washing hands, wearing face masks and social distancing
  • Upset at things that previously did not bother you
  • Feel stressed by tasks or situations that you previously managed well
  • Not engaging in activities you used to find enjoyable
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Consuming alcohol, substances or food more

7 Strategies to Combat Pandemic Fatigue

It is perfectly normal to feel burned out right now and adapting to the increased uncertainty can be challenging. To reduce the impact, it is important for you to pay attention to your physical and emotional needs. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Take care of your body. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep (6-8 hours is recommended), eating a nutritious diet filled with veggies and fruits, and some form of exercise daily.
  2. Limit your news intake. Too much news during this time can increase negative emotions and reduce energy. A reduction of just one hour a day can make a significant impact on your overall mood.
  3. Lower your stress. Activities that are calming or bring you joy can lower stress levels. In as little as fifteen minutes a day, simple tasks like mindfulness exercises, deep breathing, Yoga, walks in nature, and reading can be helpful.
  4. Connect with others. We are created for connection. Being alone and feeling isolated can be very stressful. Be creative in finding ways to connect with others, such as phone calls, video/Zoom meetings, chatting on social media, taking a live class online, or attending religious services.
  5. Accept your feelings. It can seem easier to avoid or ignore difficult feelings, however stuffing them does not make them go away. Allow yourself to label and experience them before refocusing your mind on things that will help you to feel better.
  6. Try positive self-talk. Many times our thoughts can lead us to worst case scenarios or "what if" thoughts. Instead of getting caught up in these negative thoughts, replace them with more realistic positive statements.
  7. Create new traditions. Having something fun to look forward to can usher in more joy. For instance, developing a new hobby, scheduling self-care nights or family movie nights. Be creative and find things that work best for you.
As we head into the holidays and then winter, it will be important to be more intentional in finding activities that lift your spirit and nourish your health. It is important to know that these are suggestions and should not replace counseling or therapy. If you become overwhelmed, please seek the help of a trained mental health professional.

Suggested Journal Prompts

Journaling helps us figure out who we are, what we need and what we want. It can help us make better decisions, and focus on the things that support us in taking compassionate care of ourselves and others.
(1) Make a list of 30 things that make you smile.
(2) I feel most energized when…
(3) Write the words you need to hear.