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Rethinking Pandemic Fatigue

The importance of destigmatization and normalization.

Mental health problems have increased throughout the pandemic. Pandemic fatigue may be the most common unofficial diagnosis at present, and so rethinking the way we perceive pandemic fatigue may be the key to improving our quality of life in the pandemic.

Have you been …

  • Feeling tired?
  • Feeling stressed?
  • Feeling irritable?
  • Feeling helpless?
  • Losing hope?
  • Noticing a decreased interest in aspects of your life?
  • Lacking motivation?
  • Spending more time online?
  • Losing time on social media?
  • Disconnecting from loved ones?
  • Procrastinating?
  • Dreading simple tasks?
  • Using more substances (e.g., caffeine, alcohol, drugs)
  • Spending more than usual?
  • Undereating or overeating?
  • Undersleeping or oversleeping?
  • Easing your COVID safety measures?
Unsplash Zohre Nemati
Source: Unsplash Zohre Nemati

If you answered yes to many of these, you may be showing signs of pandemic exhaustion. If you answered no to every single one, you are an anomaly.

Contrary to similar checklists that you may have come across, the higher the number of checks here can be seen as a reminder of how human you are. Across social status, age, race, gender, occupation, and political affiliations, people are showing these signs. Even if you have strived to invest in your well-being prior to (and during) the pandemic, wellness erosion is likely to occur when exposed to an extended period of crisis, whether personal, global, or, as it has been for many, both.

Recognizing that pandemic fatigue aligns with typical human behavior doesn’t alleviate problematic symptoms or excuse consequences, but it can offer an important mindset shift. In a time that glorifies overworking and filters while minimizing mental wellness, destigmatizing pandemic fatigue is a crucial step. Beyond normalizing your experience, it highlights the reality that what you once did for self-care, even if it worked, may not serve you adequately at this time. It encourages you to re-examine your methods and how preparing for a sprint may differ not only from a marathon, but a run in which the finish line is unknown.

Perhaps you were dedicated to your daily workout routine, but with pandemic fatigue, you need the endorphin boost more than an opportunity to calm your nervous system (e.g., try a low impact workout, stretch, meditate, sleep). Normalizing pandemic fatigue reduces the shame, blame, judgment, and criticism cycle that you may have fallen into and moves you toward courageously owning your truth, sharing with others, seeking help, and building community.

Finally, acknowledging that you are experiencing pandemic fatigue serves as a reminder to invest in your mental health in order to buffer unpleasant symptoms today, and for the unforeseen future.

More from Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
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