Young woman on couch with pandemic fatigue

Seek help to cope with pandemic fatigue

“I am so over this!”

Seems we hear this more every day. You might even say it yourself.

Pandemic fatigue is real. It wields potentially grave consequences – physical, mental and emotional, as well as societal.

“It’s gone on so long, we’re feeling it more and more, and that tends to impact our behavior,” said Cheryl Crowe, vice president of Behavioral Health for OSF HealthCare. “We’re starting to get weary. We’re letting our guard down and not taking as good care of ourselves.”

Vigilance can be empowering

This is no time to let fatigue win.

“It’s important to remember. The way we’re going to turn this thing around is really to take those precautions that have been identified: the masks, the physical distancing guidelines, reducing exposure to those big crowds, washing your hands. Those are key factors, and it’s not time to stop,” Cheryl said.

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Following those guidelines religiously every day during the pandemic contributes to our exhaustion.

But continued vigilance is critical. And we can actually turn that to our advantage in overcoming the fatigue. Being engaged in the fight can help us stay sharp.

“Doing those things can be empowering for us, because we’re doing our part,” Cheryl said.

Similar to the grieving process

Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s difficult to do your best to follow the guidelines, only to watch the number of positive cases spike upward across the nation. Each day, we get further away from the life we knew, but we still can’t see the end of our journey.

The anxiety we feel can lead to a host of problems.

Drug use and alcohol consumption are rising. People are falling prey to bad eating and sleeping habits. Pandemic fatigue manifests in these and countless other unhealthy ways.

If you identify with any such behaviors, it might help you to know that you’re not alone. Much of what we’re feeling is normal, Cheryl said.

“There is a kind of grief that’s going on with us for those simple things: running to the store with whoever is there, even if there’s a crowd; going out for experiences that we can’t do now. It’s such a change for us, and we’re struggling,” she said.

But there are ways we can cope and overcome pandemic fatigue.

Take heart in simple pleasures

“First of all,” Cheryl said, “we’ve got to cut ourselves a little bit of slack. None of us are perfect.”

Young family playing in living room to avoid pandemic fatigue

Second, take a deeper look at your life and find some simple things that can still make you relax and feel happy. It could be an activity from your more distant past that time pressures squeezed out of your life.  Maybe it’s watching sappy movies. Or reading books. Or painting. Or playing a musical instrument. Or a family game night.

It could even be a return to eating dinner as a family, since so many extracurricular activities have gone dark during the pandemic.

“What are things that really have been missing for you?” Cheryl said. “Right now, we have to focus on the things we have and the experiences we can have within our family. Look for those opportunities and try to get as much of your real life that’s safe to have back in place.”

Reach out to others

We also have to actively maintain human connections.

Even if you are just fine working from home, some of your colleagues may be struggling. This might be a good time to reach out to check on how they’re doing.

“You don’t have to be a therapist to do that. You just have to be someone who cares and can ask the question,” Cheryl said. “Just reach out and say, ‘Hey, it sounds like you’re struggling a little bit. I get it. How are you doing? What can I help you with?’

“It’s good to reach out, to really check in – and have them check in with us. It’s a reciprocal relationship, and when we do that, there’s a bond that continues to be built. We still need those friends and people in our lives. We just have to pay attention to what we need and what others may need.”

Don’t wait to seek help

It’s also important to admit when we need help.

“You can reach out to friends, and that’s a wonderful tool. But if you need more, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Cheryl said. “And it’s important to reach out before we get into that crisis state.”

OSF HealthCare offers an array of behavioral health services that can help you deal with general fear and anxiety, as well as specific issues such as job security, financial stress, social isolation, food insecurity and more.

Start by contacting an OSF behavioral health navigator, who can direct you to the service that best fits your need. Call (309) 308-8150 or toll free at (833) 713-7100. You can also check out SilverCloud, a free, interactive app to help you manage feelings and causes of depression, anxiety or stress.

Cheryl also noted that many counties offer the United Way 2-1-1 phone service, which connects people to professional assistance with domestic violence, emergency shelter and clothing, legal aid, transportation and more.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: COVID-19