Living through a pandemic seemed only plausible in the world of science fiction; since March however, it has been our reality. COVID-19 has propelled us into an existence filled with a constant state of worry. We as a collective are traveling through the different phases of a psychological disaster (Meyers, 1994). Depending on who you are and where you live, there has been a constant flux in how one perceives their environment. Initially, staying home 24/7 made sense but maybe now grabbing dinner at an outdoor patio seems more and more enticing. This experience is defined as “COVID fatigue.” As we try to regain a sense of normalcy from grieving the loss of the life we yearned for in 2020, taking risks to enjoy the little life we can is something we are more likely to do. As a second more restrictive lockdown is upon us, becoming aware of the different phases of a psychological disaster and restructuring your mindset can help you find ways in coping with the loss of the somewhat normalcy we’ve tasted.
6 months ago, during the Pre-disaster phase, COVID-19 was a distant threat. The fear of the virus was imminent to those who were likely exposed to it directly. At the time of lockdown, COVID-19 affected each and every one of us in some aspect. Moving into the Impact phase, the most common shared experience across communities was grief (Zunin & Meyers, 2000). As public health officials banned gatherings and states issued orders to stay home, we began to grieve the loss of what we imagined for life in 2020.
As time went on, communities and health care workers pulled us through the heroic phase attempting to minimize the damage by any means possible. Essential workers remained on the frontline and individuals had to make sacrifices in order to meet a common goal (Zunin & Meyers, 2000). In the blink of an eye, we found ourselves in the honeymoon phase. Indoor dining, gyms, and social gatherings started reemerging, and many hoped the end of 2020 would also mean the end of COVID. With the end of 2020 around the corner and cases spiking more than ever, we enter the disillusionment phase in which our shared experience has now evolved into COVID fatigue.
“COVID fatigue” is fueled by the frustration of having to continuously alter behavior. Ordering take out every time you want to treat yourself may not be as rewarding as it was during the first shelter in place. Staying 6 feet away from every person you encounter or being forced to stay away from loved ones may be becoming harder and harder.
What do we do?
So how do we continue to live our life while being restricted from the things that bring us joy and purpose? According to John Montopoli, MFT, LPCC, “Making decisions about conducting your life during the pandemic has qualities similar to all-or-nothing thinking. On the “all” side you follow the letter of the law by restricting all or most activities. On the “nothing” side you make decisions without consulting public health directives by taking no precaution. But restricting ourselves to either – or contributes to COVID fatigue because of the rigidity in our thinking. We can reduce our fatigue by trying to think more flexibly.”
Finding the middle ground of taking measured and calculated risks can help carry us through the next phase that is settling in, disillusionment. In the effort to carry yourself through these next couple of months, here are some ways to help.
Ways of Coping
- Identify the things you can and cannot control to help put risks into perspective.
- It is easy to succumb to doing “nothing” when current moment biases may be settling in. That does not mean however to do nothing to protect yourself. .
- Avoid Media Desensitization
- Over time, continued exposure to stressful news forces our brains to adapt to a new level of stress.
- Stay up to date about the current CDC recommendations in prevention and be mindful of when “COVID fatigue” may be putting you in harm’s way.
- Continue to cultivate ways to nurture your soul and take care yourself.
- Creating a routine that includes eating balanced meals, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep can make things easier in the process.
- Make sure to include activities in this daily routine that are purely for your enjoyment.
- Explore the idea of engaging with others while social distancing and wearing a mask.
“COVID fatigue” can increase the risks we are willing to expose ourselves to. It’s imperative that we continue to make decisions that will increase our safety until we get through this together.
About the Author: Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. She is currently interested in understanding the relationship between race and mental health specifically within the African American community as well as finding possible solutions to healing intergenerational trauma. Rudairo received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.