Adapting to change can be difficult. Especially when it’s a change you don’t want to embrace – like the impact of COVID-19. It’s understandable that after eight months of restricted activity and hyper-vigilance, we’re all getting tired. This frustration might show up as being less careful about wearing a mask or keeping a six-foot distance, becoming easily stressed or irritable, having trouble sleeping, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, or feeling hopeless about the future. It’s important to be on the lookout for these signs of pandemic fatigue, and to think about actively counteracting it.
Coronavirus isn’t going away, at least not right now
Acceptance is a highly effective way to manage the stress you might be experiencing. We know that a vaccine has been developed and medications are being studied. However, until they are available, we need to be able to accept our new reality. The following suggestions may help;
- Make a commitment to do the right thing. Have a talk with yourself and recommit to the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others. The more you practice, the more they become habit and the easier they are to stick to. Neglecting to wash your hands or wear a mask is akin to not wearing a seatbelt when driving because you’re tired of doing it.
- Keep pandemic supplies nearby. If you can’t find a cloth mask when you’re ready to go out the door to work or food shopping, you’re less likely to wear one. Keep a few masks in several different places so you don’t have to hunt one down when you need it. Make sure you and your family have adequate supplies of the precautionary equipment you use such as masks, hand sanitizer, and face shields or goggles.
- Monitor the situation with discipline. While staying current on how things are changing is important for acceptance, refrain from constant scrolling for news. This can add to uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue. Behavioral health experts suggest scheduling two, 5-minute check-ins a day; other than that, stay away from social media. Instead, listen to music or watch movies that can remind you of a calmer time.
Focus on the effort, not the outcome
Last spring when we were all quarantining at home, many of us were actively searching out ways to manage stress, stay socially connected, and physically active. Perhaps we need to revisit some of those resources and tools we found so helpful back then. Rather than focusing on any particular outcome (COVID-19 will be gone by summer 2021, for example), we can find balance by paying attention to each effort we make. Much like a marathon runner, who, rather than projecting to the end of the race, concentrates on each mile and each minute to make the best progress. Here are some other thoughts:
- There’s healing power in breath and movement. Remember to keep yourself active, whether it’s a walk in the neighborhood, a hike on the Appalachian Trail, or stretching on your living room floor. Deep breathing has also been shown to be effective for decreasing stress, increasing calm, lowering blood pressure, and boosting immunity.
- Get plenty of sleep. Stress and sleep are intimately connected. When you’re anxious and your body is pumping out stress hormones, your quality of sleep will be affected. Some practices that are helpful include increasing your exposure to daylight while awake, exercising, doing meditation or bedtime yoga, and keeping TVs, tablets, and phones out of the bedroom.
- Try to be present in your life. Use this easy strategy to be more mindful, which simply means paying attention to the moment rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future. This helps relieve stress by focusing on – again – your efforts, instead of any long-term outcome.
Mindfulness exercise – In this moment, think of:
- 5 things you see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you hear
- 2 things you smell
- 1 thing you taste
If you need help with stress and pandemic fatigue, reach out to Preferred EAP for information on individual and group counseling, manager training, and critical incident management for employers and employees.