August 13, 2020
by Katie Wojtalewicz, Psy.D, LP

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on our lives. Depression and anxiety are already common problems for people under chronic stress, so it’s no surprise we are seeing an increase during the pandemic.

Pandemic fatigue describes the feeling of exhaustion and burn-out we’ve reached after months of having our lives turned upside down by the virus. When the pandemic first unfolded, we assumed the disruptions to our lives were temporary. But what happens when there’s no clear finish line? How do we get our footing when we’re faced with a constant barrage of changes that don’t let up? This sense of uncertainty and powerlessness can lead to fatigue. Being exposed to chronic stress and unpredictability can deplete us of the emotional resources we need to cope.

Early on, the changes to our life were stressful – but novel. With distance learning, many kids were able to navigate this shift. As time passed and the novelty wore off, even students who were fairly self-motivated struggled at times to stay on top of their work. For many adults, working from home held appeal early on, but the relative isolation, lack of structure and challenges of multi-tasking at home have worn thin for some.

During chronic stress, it’s best to accept the things we can’t change and then put our time and energy into building up the things we can.  As an old saying goes, “We cannot control the wind, we can only adjust the sails.”

Here are some tips to cope with pandemic fatigue.

  • Allow yourself to grieve. Sometimes we try to deal with loss quickly by pushing past it. It’s OK to be sad or frustrated at the loss of routines, norms and social connections. It’s OK to feel afraid about the virus and what to expect in the future. The idea is not to live in that space. Make room for these feelings and do your best to move forward and make a workable plan at the same time.
  • Focus on what’s within your control and put your energy there. You can reduce your fear of contracting or spreading the virus by following public health guidelines: wear a mask in public, wash your hands frequently, maintain a social distance of 6 feet and watch for symptoms.
  • To protect loved ones who are vulnerable or to socialize with others, look for creative solutions such as outdoor visits which tend to have a lower risk of transmission. If this level of risk is not comfortable for you, make a phone call, Zoom or Face Time.
  • Prioritize your self-care. Look for opportunities to eat a little healthier, carve out some time for exercise, adjust your bedtime ritual to improve your quality of sleep. With fewer activities right now, you may find you have some extra time to care for yourself.   
  • Be realistic. We often lack motivation and energy when we’re depleted by stress, so it helps to gradually build momentum back up rather than overshoot and get down on ourselves. Instead of planning an elaborate exercise routine when you’re feeling down, perhaps you can start by committing to just walk around the block today. 
  • Empower yourself with accurate information.
  • Limit your intake of news and or social media if it stirs more distress right now.
  • Continue to find ways to connect with friends and family even if phone calls and virtual visits are less than ideal.
  • Build relaxation into your day consistently to provide a buffer against stress and anxiety.  This might come in the form of deep breathing, yoga, reading, communing with nature, listening to music, or watching a funny movie. Whatever helps you let go for a bit. 

Need help?

Symptoms of depression include sadness, irritability, sleep and appetite changes, poor concentration, decreased energy and a lack of interest in things that were once enjoyable. Anxiety is marked by feelings of persistent worry and fear. Physical symptoms can include an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and trembling.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by depression or anxiety, contact your primary care provider or call the Mankato Clinic at 507-625-1811. Behavioral health specialists are available through Family Medicine and Pediatrics.  

Katie Wojtalewicz, PsyD, LP, is a member of the Mankato Clinic Department of Psychology. Your primary care provider can refer you to Katie or one of her colleagues.