The countdown to 2021 is on, and for many of us 2020 can’t wrap up fast enough. Next year promises to be, if not a return to our former life, then at least a closer proximity of it. However, we are still many months away from widespread vaccination, and the pandemic fatigue we are collectively experiencing will not miraculously disappear with the drop of a ball at midnight.
What is pandemic fatigue? In the simplest sense it is being tired of the restrictions imposed on our daily lives due to COVID 19 and it can have severe consequences. Pandemic fatigue can weaken compliance with public health measures and pose the risk of higher transmission rates. There is; however, another effect of pandemic fatigue, even when we continue to follow the guidelines of our community: it is the emotional and physical exhaustion plaguing us and undermining our health. As 2020 comes to a close we need to learn how to identify and speak about the fatigue that has become the “new normal”. And we need to develop strategies to reclaim our wellbeing. Not only will these skills serve us well now, they will continue to be important for us throughout the year to come.
Tired; unmotivated; irritable - when we stop to think about it we understand why we are not at our best these days. However, part of the fallout from the Groundhog Day life we are living is that it is so much harder to benchmark anything. It’s difficult to know if we feel differently than we did yesterday, or even the week before, when we’re not ever certain what day it is.
Begin by taking inventory using this quick checklist. Compare how you feel at this moment in time to your energy and attitude this past summer. How about this time last year?
How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Physically? Emotionally?
Are you tired during the day?
Do you find yourself having difficulty concentrating?
Have your exercise routine, diet, sleep patterns or alcohol/cannabis habits changed?
Are you actively seeking or participating in (virtual) social interactions with other people?
Are you behind on work; do you feel motivated to complete tasks?
Do you have a set time and routine to mark the end of the work day?
If you are part of the almost 50% of Canadian adults experiencing pandemic fatigue, recognizing how it is impacting you is an important first step. This allows you to pinpoint when in the day you are most affected, and the behaviours you struggle with, in order to develop strategies that target your individual needs.
For example, if you know that you are having difficulty concentrating on tasks, consider why this is happening. The pandemic has caused ongoing stress for many of us, and that stress hijacks our attention. Whether it’s the difficulty of staying focussed on a work project or finishing the book you keep picking up, stress is sabotaging your ability to be engaged with the task at hand. Forcing yourself to “try harder” to focus will end in frustration. Instead, once we identify the underlying stress that is making it hard to focus, we can proactively introduce new habits in our routine to help alleviate stress.
One simple, cost effective strategy is to pull on your boots and head outside for a 30 minute walk each day. Choose the time of day that works best for you: before your workday starts; at lunchtime or after work as a transition to your evening. Put it in your calendar to stay accountable. A change of scenery, moving your body and providing your mind an opportunity to relax all work together to allow your fight or flight response that has been draining you to settle down. Note how your body feels after a walk. Do you feel more refreshed and alert? Has your mood improved?
Seek professional help if your feelings and experiences are negatively impacting your relationships or work performance, you are experiencing prolonged feeling of sadness or anger; are engaging in substance misuse, or have identified marked changes in your behaviours. 20% of adults require professional mental health care.