Tired? Us Too. Pandemic Fatigue Is Real—But You Can Protect Yourself From It
Feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness are at all an time across the world—but there are still ways to rediscover happiness even in the worst of times
We come bearing bad news and good news. Let's start with the bad.
We've heard all about the need to "flatten the curve" and end COVID-19's first wave; this has to do with effectively controlling the virus' spread, isolating cases to lower the risk of infection, relieving the stress the pandemic has placed on healthcare system, and slowly nursing the economy back to life. As much as we'd like to be the change we want to see, all these things can only be accomplished with the collective effort of entire neighborhoods, cities, countries, and governments and heck, perhaps even humanity, as a whole.
It's certainly easier said than done, and one one can truly project how successful the world has been in flattening the curve despite months of grappling with the pandemic.
But alas—psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health professionals warn of "another wave" that is just emerging, one that has less to do with physical symptoms, but rather, is more closely linked to our emotional, mental, social, and even spiritual well-being. They're calling it "pandemic fatigue"—a new psychological phenomenon brought on by the health crisis.
If you've felt increased pangs of loneliness, withdrawal, anxiety, panic, worry, sadness, disconnection, isolation, depressive moods, irritability, emptiness, anger, burnout, lack of motivation, decreased energy, or just an overall sense of unease about where life is headed, you could very well be experiencing pandemic fatigue. (Learn more about pandemic fatigue here).
Where's the good news in all of this?
It's here—unlike the COVID-19 crisis that is out of your direct control, pandemic fatigue is something you can protect yourself (and your loved ones) from. You can have ownership over whether or not you succumb to it, and best of all, saving yourself from pandemic fatigue is helping others in the process, too.
Scroll ahead to see what it takes:
Don't be shy. Reach out.
It's unsurprising that one of the biggest culprits of pandemic fatigue is mandatory quarantine. As human beings, we require social interaction to satisfy our social needs; being around people offers us a sense of belonging, helps alleviate day to day stress, gives us something to look forward to, and provides us the sympathy and empathy that help us manage negative experiences.
Take that away—and take it away for several months at a time with no definite end for when it can be given back—and what you get are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people across the globe that feel lonely and isolated. This remains true even for those going through quarantine with family or other people; human beings need the full cast of characters in their lives for their social needs to be met.
Now every time you find yourself hesitating to ring or text a friend or connect on social media, go for it. Right now, technology is our best alternative to the face to face interactions we so dearly miss. Many people choose to keep to themselves as they fear that they are "imposing" on others. They say, "Everyone is stressed out with their own worries, there's really no need for me to add to the mix by sharing my own thoughts and feelings."
Well, here's a news flash for you: Sure, other people are stressed out, too, just like you. But like you, everyone else is also looking for company and someone to talk to in this time, so trust us when we say that you would be doing more good than bad by reaching out—both for yourself, and a loved one.
Phone vs. Zoom, that is the question
Here's an interesting point that hasn't been talked about a lot when it comes to staying connected in the time of COVID. Did you know that there's a growing consensus that phone conversations are better than video calls, especially when it comes to social (i.e.: not for work) interactions?
It seems counter-intuitive; after all video calls allow that extra layer of connection because you see actual people onscreen and have conversations with real faces, while a phone call just offers a voice. However, the reality is video interactions actually stress out our brains more than we think!
The science behind this is rather beautiful, but to simplify what it's all about, what you have to know is that our brains process conversations in two ways: verbally (as in, with the actual words spoken to us and the meanings we infer from them) and non-verbally (non-verbal communication includes tone and pitch of a voice, speed of talking, body language, facial expressions that provide additional meaning to an interaction).
When we're on video apps like Zoom and all we can see are teeny tiny faces, this makes our brains work overtime as they're trying incredibly hard to decipher the non-verbal input we're getting from our screens. And because all we see are images of faces that are as seldom as clear as they would be in person, our brains work overtime to discern what other input it can gather from facial expressions, voice quality, and body language.
We might even feel more drained and tired after a prolonged video call, which defeats the purpose of hoping that a video call might help ease pandemic-caused feelings of isolation and disconnection.
In this situation, phone calls win.
"Mindfulness" is thrown around a lot in wellness circles, but how deeply do we really understand it?
From a psychological perspective, mindfulness is all about staying attuned to thoughts and emotions that you get when facing a stressful situation in the present. It's paying attention to what triggers you, and eventually, knowing how to arrest the process of negative feelings and thoughts taking over your body. It borrows a lot from the ancient practices of yoga and meditation as the backbone of mindfulness is discovering how your mind can have profound influences on your physical well-being—and vice versa!
Here's an example to make these abstract concepts more concrete:
For instance, you notice that your shoulders tense, your chest tightens, and you feel a migraine begin when you hear about news of continuously increasing positive COVID cases in the country. The physical sensations are accompanied by stressful thoughts and emotions; anxiety takes over and you worry if life will ever be the same again, you feel hopeless as no solution seems to be in sight, and you are afraid that you too might fall ill.
It's a terrible cycle; your thoughts and feelings contribute your body's physical tension, and feeling that your body is tight and uncomfortable stresses you out even more.
Mindfulness aims to break that cycle, and guess what? There are a hundred one ways to practice mindfulness, many of which only require a few minutes of your day. And, mindfulness is for all ages, too.
Seek professional help
No one should ever question your decision to seek psychological help should you reach a point where you feel like you need to talk to a professional to get out of a rut. And if you ask, well, how do I know if I've reached that point? How do I know if an appointment with a psychologist is due?
There are no black and white answers to that; your threshold for how much stress you can handle is your very own, and it is up to you to decide whether or not you've breached it or not. Definitely do not allow yourself to be swayed by those who will convince you 'Kaya mo naman yan,' or use themselves as a comparison—that if they can get through it, you can, too. Only you can dictate whether or not you can endure stress, or if you need help.
Fortunately for Filipinos, 21st century society has made mental health issues legitimate health concerns. And during the pandemic, the field of mental health has stepped up to the plate and provided accessible services to those who might need it. You don't even have to set a physical appointment and show up at clinic, either. You can start with calling mental health numbers that provide telepsychological services.
Lastly, limit your intake.
You know how they say that ignorance is bliss? The saying could very well apply to pandemic fatigue, at least to some extent.
We've all definitely reached that point where we're all well-informed of what COVID-19 is, its risks, how to protect ourselves from it, how it's wreaked havoc on the world, and how long it might take for the pandemic to come to an end. We know these details like the backs of our hands, and so, how much more do we really need to keep reading about it?
Limit your intake of news, headlines, articles, videos, or social media posts that bombard you with these things and more. If you ever need to read up on COVID-related information, go online and research with your specific purpose in mind, then leave it at that. Don't get sucked into the void of endless COVID articles as you'll inevitably feel more hopeless and discouraged—inevitably.
Use your social media time or TV time for things that make you happy (K-Dramas, classic series on Netflix, cooking videos, anyone?). Or in fact, don't go on social media or watch the news at all in a day or two, if you can afford it. Give yourself a break. No one will call you an irresponsible citizen by choosing to stay away from headlines to spend that time hanging out with family, reading a good book, learning new recipes, or finally learning how to play that guitar that's gathered years of dust.
While the COVID-19 crisis looks like it's going to be here a while, pandemic fatigue needn't be.
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