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Managing COVID-19 Burnout

By Regan Olsson For Banner Health

Another day, another day-in-the-life of COVID-19.

Every morning when you turn on the news or scroll social media, there’s more uncertainty and disheartening news. Then add in all the new rules you have to add to your daily routine, like masking in public and social distancing. At first the pandemic was a good excuse to wear your PJs all day while you worked from home, but even that has lost its fun — you actually kind of miss clothes that zip or button.

After day 200-whatever, it’s only natural that you may feel burnt out, exhausted or just plain over this “new normal.” If you are feeling any of these, you may be suffering from pandemic fatigue.

What is pandemic fatigue?

In March, many of us felt the sense of urgency related to the virus and did our part to stay home and slow the spread. Fast forward to present, and that sense of urgency may have waned a little.

Pandemic fatigue is a very real feeling of exhaustion as a result of COVID-19’s impact on our lives—from quarantining to lost jobs to the fears of getting sick. All of these play into the fatigue many of us are feeling and how we are reacting as a result.

“Some of what we know from previous quarantines and research is that there are things that predict who will do worse and who will do better during one,” said Gagandeep Singh, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. “We see some who say there is so much in the news, they start to ignore it. Others who are so tense, they snap and get angrier. And others who get anxious and depressed. These feelings can cause us to start to bend the rules and downplay the ever-present risks.”

Coping with pandemic fatigue

Now that it’s sinking in that COVID-19 may be here longer than we thought, you may find it really hard to adapt and get out of the funk you are in. The trouble is, how do you still take the pandemic seriously when you can’t even cope appropriately?

“I’m meeting with patients and hearing that they are much more stressed out,” Dr. Singh said. “The added problem is that they can’t use their normal coping mechanisms. Things like connecting with others, exercise and entertainment aren’t readily available these days.”

The thing is, we are animals with biological needs and we need to take care of ourselves emotionally, physically and mentally. Dr. Singh shared some tips to help build resiliency and feel more in control of your life.

Acknowledge your feelings

While it seems things might never get better, don’t brush those feelings under the rug.

“It’s important to recognize that things might suck right now and that you wish you knew what would happen six months from now, but you don’t—no one does,” Dr. Singh said. “Call that out, acknowledge it and move to the next phase of what you can do right now to make things better.”

Reframe your thinking

You may be sick and tired of staying home, washing your hands excessively and wearing a mask, but remind yourself of your sense of purpose. Realize that by wearing a mask in public and staying home when possible, you play a larger part in humanity by keeping yourself and others safe. What you are doing is crucial to our society getting through this together.

You may not have control of public health or public policy, but you do have control of how you’ll respond to the pandemic and do your part to control the spread.

Use humor

While the pandemic is no laughing matter, go ahead and laugh — if you can.

“When we laugh, we release endorphins and help reduce stress hormones like cortisol, which can help reduce fear and anxiety,” Dr. Singh said. “A good laugh can help lighten the mood and help you feel better overall.”

If you are starting to feel the weight of COVID-19, pop on a Netflix or Amazon comedy, subscribe to a funny YouTube channel or connect with a friend or loved one on Zoom and share funny “remember when” stories.

Connect with others

Being removed from family and friends, especially when you live alone, can be stressful. If you can’t be physically present, it doesn’t mean you have to be socially isolated. There are many ways to still feel socially connected.

You can do the following:

Set up regular Zoom/Facetime calls with friends and family

Have socially distanced hangouts outdoors with others

Schedule a Netflix party and watch a movie with friends

Get old-fashioned and write a letter

Go on a socially distanced hike or walk with a friend

Take care of yourself

When you are wrapped up with working from home, schooling from home and managing the household, you may forget to take care of yourself. Make sure you continue to eat healthyexercise regularly (there are plenty of online classes), get enough sleep and limit your social media intake. Doing these things can lift your spirits, boost your energy levels and help you better care for loved ones at home.

Find gratitude in challenges

Have your conversations and thoughts lately evolved into negativity? Stopping to “smell the roses” may seem difficult these days. If gratitude doesn’t come naturally for you—especially right now—you’re not alone.

Gratitude is something that with a little practice can become a regular habit. It can help remind you how special, precious and fortunate we are and even help you cope better with the stress of these uncertain times.

“It is a strong tool that we can use to reframe our thoughts and think about the silver linings in our life,” Dr. Singh said.

Try writing down three things that happened each day that went well, made you feel good or gave you a sense of achievement. It can be as simple as sitting down with your family to watch a movie. At first it may be difficult when you feel like things are so dire, but with continual practice, things you are grateful for will become clearer and ever-present.

[Check out “An Attitude of Gratitude: How to Promote a Positive Outlook” for tips]

Seek support

Are you using drugs or alcohol to cope? Are you not sleeping or eating well? If pandemic fatigue is getting in the way of you properly caring for yourself and others, doctors are here for you, even in a pandemic. Contact an expert at Banner Behavioral Health and get help today via a telehealth appointment or in person.

By Regan Olsson

For Banner Health

“It’s important to remember there is hope,” Dr. Singh said. “We are all sacrificing today for the greater public good and good is coming of that. Having hope will help us get through it.”