Have you found yourself feeling exhausted by the Covid-19 pandemic? Does it seem like it will never end? Has it brought up fears and anxieties that you were not even sure existed a year ago? If so, you’re not alone. The world has been thrown into a whirlwind that we have not seen in our lifetime due to Covid-19, and the effects of it have been far-reaching. Some changes have altered our lives in significant ways such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a business or job. Other changes have altered our lives in smaller ways, but over time can feel exhausting like wearing a mask or social distancing. We can often find ourselves longing for “normalcy” and wondering when or if that will be a possibility. Many call this phenomenon “Pandemic Fatigue.”
What is Pandemic Fatigue?
So, what is Pandemic Fatigue? To better understand Pandemic Fatigue, it helps to understand collective trauma. Collective trauma refers “to the impact of a traumatic experience that affects and involves entire groups of people, communities, or societies. [It] is extraordinary in that not only can it bring distress and negative consequences to individuals but in that it can also change the entire fabric of a community” (Erikson, 1976 via Turmaud, 2020).
A hallmark of collective trauma is that it affects society at large. Collectively we are experiencing changes to the way of life we had known previously. We are collectively experiencing fear and anxiety. We are grieving a host of losses from loss of life to loss of career to loss of normalcy. Many aspects of our lives feel out of control and unknown. Together, we are experiencing a wide array of emotions that we could not have expected or prepared for.
The science behind Pandemic Fatigue can be seen using the Phases of Disaster model by Zunin and Meyers (SAMHSA, 2020). This model has been used by the CDC in disaster training. There are six phases to this model. The first is the Pre-disaster Phase which is exactly like it sounds. In the case of Covid, this phase would be the pre-Covid stage.
The second phase is the Impact Stage which is when Covid began to affect us. The third stage is the Heroic Phase where we jumped into action to combat the effects of the virus. The third stage quickly moves into the fourth stage which is the Honeymoon Stage where community bonding occurs to combat the virus. Often this stage has a sense of optimism that life will return to normal quickly.
The fifth stage is the Disillusionment Stage. This is where we start to feel exhausted by the situation. Stress and discouragement begin to take their toll. Some may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to get through the situation. The last phase, phase six, is characterized by Recovery and Reconstruction. During this time, communities begin to rebuild, and people begin to adjust to the “new normal” while grieving losses that occurred during the disaster (SAMHSA, 2020).
Pandemic Fatigue occurs during that fifth stage of disillusionment and extends into the sixth stage of recovery. We find ourselves exhausted, stressed, and struggling. Questions such as “Will this ever end?” “When will life return to normal?,” and “What is life going to look like moving forward?” begin to surface.
We find that our society is becoming more polarized, divided, and hostile about issues surrounding the pandemic. It can become hard to know how to handle all the situations that are coming up. At this point, the United States is over a year into this pandemic, and we feel drained, both societally and individually.
While we are affected as a society, it is important to not minimize the impact the pandemic has had on each of us individually. Sometimes people struggle to allow themselves to recognize the impact that this has on them on an individual level. There are a couple of traps in which people can fall.
The first is that we can say, “Everybody is going through it so I’m not any different from anybody else.” While part of this is true, the other is not. Yes, society is going through this as a whole; however, everybody handles it differently and that is okay. It’s okay to say that you’re exhausted by the pandemic. Your feelings are real and valid, and they shouldn’t be minimized.
The second trap is that we compare ourselves to others saying something like, “I don’t have it as bad as [insert name here] so I shouldn’t let it affect me.” Yes, some people have suffered tremendously during this pandemic, but their suffering doesn’t minimize yours, and all have suffered in some way. It is okay to recognize that people have suffered tremendously and that you, too, have suffered and have been affected.
Steps to Support Your Well-Being During the PandemicThere are some steps that each person can take to support our well-being as we continue to navigate this pandemic (Turmaud, 2020). The first is to take care of our physical health. Getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy meals, getting exercise, and drinking plenty of water can help our bodies be healthy which can translate into better mental health.
The second step is to take care of your emotional health. Book an appointment with your counselor, write in a journal, or take part in something creative. These things can bolster your mental health. The third step is taking care of your relational health. While this can look different in the era of social distancing, you can still connect with others by calling them on the phone or doing a video call.
Simply expressing gratitude toward someone can bring healthful dividends. Last, and certainly important, is to foster your spiritual health. Pray, meditate, or read the Bible or a faith-based book (Turmaud, 2020). These four steps can help navigate Pandemic Fatigue.
As the United States moves toward recovery and reconstruction with the vaccine rollout, it is as important as ever to recognize the effects of Pandemic Fatigue. Give yourself some grace in your response to this pandemic. Take the time to grieve losses. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up regarding this. Lastly, reach out to somebody and take the time to take care of yourself. You are important!
SAMHSA. (2020, June 17). Phases of disaster. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/recovering-disasters/phases-disaster
Turmaud, D.R. (2020, December 31). The science behind pandemic fatigue. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifting-the-veil-trauma/202012/the-science-behind-pandemic-fatigue
Turmaud, D.R. (2020, May 23). What is collective trauma? How it could be impacting us. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifting-the-veil-trauma/202005/what-is-collective-trauma
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