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Dealing with Coronavirus Burnout and Pandemic Fatigue

Most people were vigilant in the beginning. But now, nearly one year later, that’s given way to exhaustion and fatigue. As we transition into winter, prime flu season, it’s even more important to be cautious. If you’re tired of donning a face mask every time you step out of your house, of one-way grocery store aisles, and chapped hands from constant washing and sanitizing, you’re not alone. 

It’s not an official or diagnosable condition, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half of the global population is experiencing what’s been dubbed “Pandemic Fatigue.”

We just want things to get back to normal—whatever that may be. We want to see our friends, dine in restaurants, and take trips without the fear of contracting a deadly virus. We want it to be over, but it’s not. As the pandemic drags on, health experts say that pandemic fatigue causes people to let down their guard, causing the virus to spike, reaching levels of cases and deaths not seen since the spring. 

There’s still no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, and infection numbers continue to rise. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19, and the risk of infection remains. 

It’s understandable and acceptable to feel that way, but as challenging as it might be, now is the time to strengthen your resolve and recommit to prevention measures.

9 Tips to Help You Avoid Coronavirus Burnout

1. Make a Commitment to Make It a Habit

We practice various safety measures almost every day. Most of us wouldn’t even think of riding in a vehicle without wearing a seatbelt or allowing our children to ride bikes without putting on a helmet. Those steps have become routine to us because we decided to adopt them.

It wasn’t until 1968 that cars and trucks were required to have seatbelts, and wearing one was voluntary until 1984, when New York passed a law mandating their use. Bike helmets were introduced in 1975, and it wasn’t until 2005 that wearing a helmet became compulsory for Tour de France competitors.

Research has shown that it takes an extended period of reinforcing new behavior before that behavior becomes entrenched in our brains. One of the best ways to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. Physiologically speaking, habits are like a road map that the brain follows. When a person replaces one habit with another, the brain rewires the neural pathways that make up the old habit, literally mapping one habit on top of another.

We can apply the same principle to washing hands, maintaining physical distance, and wearing a mask in public. Just as we did with seat belts and bike helmets, the decision to develop those habits is a way to keep ourselves and others safe, even if it’s a slight inconvenience.

2. Stay Flexible 

It’s tempting to throw your hands in the air in exasperation and give up when you hear conflicting information. New scientific insights and facts continue to emerge about the virus that causes COVID-19 to change experts’ recommendations daily, which can be confusing.  

Do you still need to disinfect your groceries? Do you need to wear a mask in your car? Is it safe to go to restaurants? It’s challenging—but essential—to keep up. Count on reliable, trustworthy sources to get the latest information. 

3. Take a Break From News and Social Media

Generally speaking, it’s good to stay abreast of the news, but being bombarded with negative and sensational headlines about the devastation caused by the virus can be overwhelming. Unless your work is dependent on knowing the daily tally of COVID-19 virus infection rates and deaths, you don’t need the information. 

Instead, take some time to read a book or watch a movie (preferably the uplifting kind). 

4. Don’t Expect a Magic Wand on January 1, 2021

Despite months worth of social media memes about the horrors of 2020, a return to normalcy won’t happen immediately when the ball drops and the new year begins. It’s great to have hope, but putting your faith into an arbitrary deadline can set you up for disappointment. The reality is that we don’t know when the pandemic will end, so we can probably count on Zoom meetings and face masks for the foreseeable future. 

5. Exercise

Any type of physical exercise—even a quick walk around the block—can help. Exercising releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has decreased overall tension levels, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. 

6. Talk It Out

Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away. Studies have shown that suppressing emotions endangers your physical and psychological health and well-being. Putting on a brave front might trick you into thinking you’re strong, but it won’t make your anxiety go away. Keeping your emotions bottled up can backfire, causing you to act out. Instead, try talking it out with a friend or a professional.

7. Think Positively

It may sound flippant, but even just forcing yourself to think positively can help. Rather than focusing on doom and gloom, try to remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can, given the circumstances. We can’t change the situation, but adjusting your thinking could alleviate some of the stress. 

8. Try Mindfulness and Gratitude

Mindfulness and meditation are not new, but it’s become popular recently as a way to help people manage stress and improve their overall well-being. There’s a wealth of research that confirms its effectiveness. Psychologists have found that mindfulness meditation changes our brain and biology positively, improving mental and physical health. 

9. Be Compassionate and Kind to Yourself

It’s not easy, but you need to give yourself a break. Having self-compassion—not being so hard on yourself—can be a helpful strategy for not just getting through but thriving during challenging times, according to a 2016 mental health study. Think about how you would talk to a friend with kindness and then apply that to yourself. Be kind to yourself as we all try to adjust to a frightening and uncertain situation.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You don’t have to do it alone. It may be difficult to imagine things getting better, but it won’t always seem hopeless if you get the right help. Whether you’re looking for a therapist or are seeking a support group, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health (EVBH) stands ready to help. 

Olivia’s Fund provides financial assistance to anyone who lives or works in Eagle County to help pay for mental health and/or substance use services for up to six sessions per person per year. There are also many other financial assistance programs available to our community during this extraordinarily trying time. In addition, we have several COVID-19 resources to help you and those you love remain safe.

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