If you’ve been feeling tired, unmotivated, or had difficulty sleeping lately, you’re not alone. At this point, we’ve been in full-on crisis mode as a result of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for months. Among the slew of new terms popping up this year comes another: pandemic fatigue.
“It’s reasonable to feel exhausted and burned out after months of higher-than-normal stress from health concerns, finances, and the wear of pandemic precautions on daily life,” said Jacob Bishop, MD, Behavioral Health, Baptist Health Corbin.
What is Pandemic Fatigue?
“Simply put, pandemic fatigue is what happens as your body tries to adapt to prolonged feelings of stress,” Dr. Bishop. Symptoms of pandemic fatigue can emerge as early as a couple of weeks after the onset of a crisis, but most commonly present after a few months of dealing with a high-stress situation.
Pandemic fatigue can present as a feeling of emotional numbness, physical exhaustion, or a sense of inner weariness. You may also notice feelings of helplessness, sadness, frustration, or increased irritability.
In addition to emotional symptoms like lack of motivation and trouble concentrating, many are also experiencing physical manifestations of pandemic fatigue including, but not limited to:
- Trouble sleeping
- Change in eating habits or patterns
- Withdrawing from others or things once enjoyed.
You may notice that you:
- Snap at or argue with people more than normal
- Cannot stop your racing or anxious thoughts
- Feel constantly on-edge or nervous
- Cry excessively and without reason
- Display disruptive or out of character behavior
How Does Stress Contribute to Pandemic Fatigue?
When your body experiences something it perceives as a threat, the adrenal glands in your endocrine system release the stress hormone, cortisol. It also releases adrenaline, which causes increased heart rate and breathing as your body prepares for the classic fight or flight response.
“These biological responses are designed to keep us safe and are beneficial if we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. The problem comes when we remain in crisis-mode for long periods of time,” according to Dr. Bishop.
Most of us are now entering our sixth month dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19, many of which have caused added stress, anxiety, and fear. Sustaining high levels of cortisol and adrenaline over a long period of time can have many negative health consequences including depression, anxiety, insomnia, elevated heart rate, or heart palpitations.
Coping with Pandemic Fatigue
Coping with the increased uncertainty and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is understandably difficult. In order to lessen the strain on your body and mind, it is essential to recognize the symptoms of pandemic fatigue in your life and prioritize your physical and emotional health.
1. Prioritize your body
When you’re worried about your health, finances, and trying to make big decisions, it can be easy to lose sight of your physical well being. Make sure you’re getting enough restful sleep, choose nutritious meals, and try to exercise or stay active regularly. Not only will these things improve your overall energy and mood, but they’ll also boost your immune system.
2. Be mindful of what you let into your mind
We live in a world of constant updates and easy access to news. While information is great, it can also become overwhelming if not consumed in moderation. It is important to set limits around what and how much media you are consuming to ensure you are not triggering a continuous stress response. Try establishing set times each day to check-in for news updates. This will allow you to stay well-informed without becoming overloaded with bad news and information.
While it is probably unreasonable to totally escape from the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to carve out time to proactively reduce your stress. Focus on activities that bring you joy and allow you to relax, even if it’s a short 15-minute meditation. Consider things like mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises, meditation apps, yoga, going for a walk, reading, or watching a lighthearted comedy.
4. Stay connected with loved ones
Though physical distancing requirements still reign, it is important to stay connected with friends and loved ones during this stressful time. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can add to your stress. Look for opportunities to safely connect with people you love through phone calls, video meetings, social media, or getting back to basics by writing cards and letters.
5. Leave space for your feelings
Unprecedented times like these can trigger a wide range of emotions. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the emotions that may rise up throughout this pandemic. Suppressing your emotions will not cause them to go away, so instead, allow yourself the permission to acknowledge and feel your emotions and remember that grief is not a linear process so feelings may ebb and flow. Then focus your energy on positive self-talk and what you can do. If your feelings become too overwhelming, reach out to your primary care provider or a mental health clinician.
Behavioral Health Services at Baptist Health
Although stress is at a collective all-time high, there are ways to combat pandemic fatigue caused by a prolonged state of crisis. If the stress of COVID-19 is affecting your ability to function or enjoy daily life, Baptist Health is here to help. You can connect with our behavioral health professionals in person or online to prioritize your emotional health. Its help line is available 24/7 by calling 800-395-4435.