Though rules and regulations regarding the pandemic have once again eased, that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t still sick of having to deal with anything and everything related to COVID-19.
It is called COVID-19 or pandemic fatigue, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including on an individual level with feelings of anxiety, periods of depression, trouble focusing, and general tiredness or boredom. The pandemic itself has led to a rise in overdose deaths, specifically opioid overdoses, as a likely result of pandemic conditions.
Though the long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown, the mental health effects are already revealing themselves. Ultimately, the length of the pandemic, the rules, stress, isolation, loss of life, feelings of fear, etc. contribute to people’s feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, and frustration. That same phenomenon can lead to apathy as well.
“In the United States, we’ve normalized a very high death toll. Ironically, it’s prevented us from being able to return to any sort of ‘normal’,” Anne Sosin, a Dartmouth College Nelson A. Rockefeller Center fellow for public policy, said to CNBC.
Pandemic fatigue is cited as a reason people flaunt or refuse to follow certain pandemic-related restrictions and rules. Strict lockdowns would help to curb the effects of the pandemic on the world, but many, specifically in the U.S., are not willing to go back into a strict lockdown ever again.
It can also manifest as a lack of desire to reimpose restrictions when cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise. The U.S. government has also made it clear, specifically Biden, that another lockdown will never happen no matter how bad things get in the future. Cities and states around the country are also letting vaccine and mask mandates for certain indoor settings expire though experts say that move is premature.
For some, pandemic fatigue can also be a false sense of security. Going a long time without contracting the virus and not knowing anyone who has had it means a person could think they are relatively safe.
Also, now that more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, many have changed their outlooks as symptoms are likely to be mild and those in their orbit are probably safe.
Humans can also develop what is called compassion fatigue, which is when caring about an issue becomes exhausting or mentally taxing. Watching bad news on repeat can make a person overly anxious or scared until they cannot read about the topic anymore without feeling those emotions, and COVID-19 is all over the news.
“Research shows that we have a human tendency to turn away from mass suffering, as a form of self-preservation,” Gale Sinatra, a psych professor at the University of Southern California, said to CNBC. “Our brains resist processing that information.”
No longer does the number of hospitalizations or deaths cause a shock to the conscious, with the number of deaths reaching 900,000 in the U.S. barely making headlines.
Managing Pandemic Fatigue
People also have trouble developing new habits, and the pandemic has asked for a lot of change from many, including masking, being unable to gather in crowds, and social distancing, to name just three.
So, according to Psychologist Carisa Parrish in an article for Johns Hopkins, so many changes over a relatively short time frame have caused fatigue and burnout. Many are craving a return to pre-pandemic normalcy, wanting to believe that it is safe enough. However, the number of cases, deaths, and hospitalizations across the country are still not where they need to be to go completely back to normal.
Parrish suggests sticking with it and trying a new normal to help overcome that fatigue: making a commitment to practicing informed safety measures until it becomes a part of daily routines, having supplies like masks handy everywhere so it becomes second nature to have them, and staying updated on the latest and changing safety guidelines from trusted sources.
“You just commit to it, and then over time, you find you’re putting your mask on or washing your hands without thinking,” Parrish suggests, especially for kids who thrive on structure.
She also suggests reading stories about people who have had serious or long-term COVID or lost loved ones to COVID in order to make the pandemic more real and remind some why these restrictions are in place; to prevent severe illness and more deaths.
It also helps to remember that no one is going through this alone, Dr. John Torres told NBC New York, reminding everyone that pandemic fatigue has had a particular impact on healthcare workers.
“I just try to remember that we are going to get to the end of this, this pandemic will end. We just … need to make sure we all stay together,” Dr. Torres said.