COVID-19 Fatigue: Not Sick, but Sick and Tired
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all of us. There is no one, regardless of physical health, cultural background, political opinion, or financial status, that has not been subject to some kind of increased stress in the last 7 months. The COVID-19 pandemic was predicted to last months, or even longer, but in March I think we all felt that there would be changes to the situation on a daily basis that would lead to better news. We are now over half a year since the pandemic situation truly started to impact the United States, and we are entering a stage of true fatigue with dealing with this situation. As I have told many clients, the book on maintaining good mental health during a world-wide pandemic has yet to be written, but likely will be a best seller in the coming years. That does not mean that there are not things we know can help all of us manage the fatigue of living in the COVID-19 world. These tools are universally applicable strategies to manage stress, burn-out, and depression that can be used whether one is practicing extreme quarantine measures or if one is trying to begin venturing out into the world more as it opens.
Preface: For those directly impacted by COVID-19
Before any discussion can begin that talks about dealing with the fatigue of living in a COVID-19 impacted world, it is important to address those have been directly, or indirectly, impacted by the virus itself. If you or a loved one have had the virus, you likely went through a period of intense anxiety. Hopefully there were no major complications after you recovered, but it can still leave you with a sense of discomfort in your mind of being impacted by something that you can’t see and is very hard to avoid. The discussion in this blog may be focused on those who are experiencing mental fatigue related to the inconvenience and stress of living in the COVID-19 world, but the same strategies used to manage those feelings can be used if you had, or will have, direct contact with the virus in your life. An additional tool for you to use if you are infected with the virus or have a close relation with someone who is, is to remember not to catastrophize the situation. COVID-19 is a serious disease and can be deadly, but statistically the odds are in your favor, and stressing over an illness has never been an approved treatment shown to help in any way. In fact, stress management is likely improving one’s chances of a full and quick recovery from any illness including COVID-19.
Stay informed, but limit the news exposure
It is important in times like these to be informed about what is happening in the world. COVID-19 is an ever-evolving situation in regard to its spread, treatments, and what we learn about how the virus impacts the body. Being informed about the crisis is important for us to make smart decisions for ourselves and our families. It is also helpful to stay up to date with information about business and school closures or mask requirements set forth by the local, state, and federal governments. However, there is a very strong chance for information overload and increased anxiety of one is obsessing over the news every day. The 24-hour news channels have created a breeding ground for obsessive thinking and stress to get a “fix”, with those channels having non-stop reporting with often intentionally dramatic headlines or tones. Regardless of which news channel you find to be politically tolerable, all of them are guilty of bombarding us with so much negative information that it is impossible to watch it for too long without starting to feel that the world is totally out of control and we are all in mortal danger. We all can be susceptible to information overload, no matter how aware we are of the news channels motivations to get ratings. Here are a few tips to allow you to stay informed while not letting the constant news cycle increase your anxiety:
- Set limits for yourself. An example would be to watch the national news in the morning for a short time while you prepare your day, and maybe the local news for 30 minutes in the evening. Do not keep the TV on all day with the news on, particularly when working from home.
- Read articles, limit exposure to news on TV. Articles are not immune to being hyped or misleading, but the delivery method of live TV with an anchor who is using intense inflection can be additionally stressful
- Be mindful of news that is relevant to you and that which is not. Things like total COVID-19 cases country-wide should have little impact on your day to day choices. Focus on things that will actually impact your day, like school statuses or local outbreaks.
Good mental health during COVID-19
As previously mentioned, there is not yet a clear strategy developed to maintain good mental health during a pandemic. In the future, there may be certain new strategies and ideas that will apply to these specific circumstances. For now, we can turn to things that are universally beneficial to our mental health that COVID-19 does not prevent us from doing. The virus and the response may limit our in-person social interactions and abilities to attend events we enjoy, but there is still plenty of things we can do that helps keep our minds balanced.
Physical exercise has been difficult with so many gyms closed, and even now that they are open you may not feel comfortable using them. There have been a lot of new companies and equipment created to help people get exercise from home. Whether you enjoy running outside or purchase some kind of equipment for you to be able to exercise in your home, physical movement is crucial to a healthy mental state. Always let your body tell you what you are able and unable to do. Do not begin an exercise program that is too rigorous and just try to push through severe pain and exhaustion. This will deplete your mental resources and even increase your stress.
Find ways to be able to do your hobbies and interests even if they must be altered due to COVID-19. Some things are understandably not possible currently, like if you particularly enjoy large crowd gatherings at sporting events or concerts. But if you have hobbies you enjoy like reading, gardening, home repair, or playing games, you should rely on these more than ever to help keep your mind working and enjoying your free time. Virtual meetings with friends and family are also more possible than ever and while they are different from what we are used to, it is far better than being isolated from those we are used to interacting with.
Working from home has become the new normal for many of us. For some, it may even become permanent. First, if you are fortunate enough to have your career not be negatively impacted by COVID-19, it can be beneficial to practice gratitude for being in this situation. If you are working from home part-time or full-time, boundaries are more important than ever. Have a set area of your home that is a workspace, don’t use your bed or areas that you relax or spend time with family. This is not just to avoid distractions while you work. It is crucial to not train your mind that the bed or the living room are places where work should be on your thoughts. You must have boundaries between work mode and personal time, and that becomes exceedingly difficult if you don’t keep your work in a certain area of the home. Also try to have decompression time when your workday is finished. Go for a walk, or even a drive, to transition your mind away from work mode. Many of us may not miss the commute that we used to do to and from our workplace, but it was often a necessary time of transition for our minds. You can creatively make your own transition time and ask those around you to respect this new routine.
If you are finding yourself fatigued of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and wish to learn more ways to improve your mental health, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.