For more than a year now, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every area of daily life. Masking, social distancing, vaccine distribution, and other issues have led to what many health care experts call “COVID fatigue”.
The good news is that there are ways to cope with the effects of this fatigue, which can be caused by stress, monotony, and excessive mental or emotional exertion.
A full year of the pandemic brings many of those factors to everyday living. Worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones creates stress. Lockdowns, remote working, and social isolation – along with constant safety procedures – can create monotony. Caring for loved ones who contracted the virus, keeping up with work and school regulations, and dealing with numerous other practical matters related to the pandemic can lead to mental and emotional over-exertion.
People respond to stressful situations and the fatigue they bring in different ways, but taking steps to care for yourself and your family can help you manage these problems. Paying closer attention to the symptoms of fatigue and stress is the first step. Taking measures to support well-being comes next.
Stress and fatigue indicators:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Being affected more than usual by feelings of fear, worry, frustration, anger, and sadness
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Sleep loss, nightmares, tossing and turning
- Worsening of chronic physical or mental health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other substances
- Exhaustion, loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy
- Take breaks from the news each day by closing your news and social media feeds and turning off the TV. Create some time and space to focus on other things.
- Manage your expectations. There is still a lot of uncertainty about almost every aspect of the pandemic. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by assuming that a return to normal is just around the corner. Social distancing, masks, curbside food pickup, Zoom, and other elements of the pandemic will not end at once.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat regular, well-balanced meals and get some physical activity every day. Get enough rest. Long work hours and shift work, combined with stressful or physically demanding work, can lead to extreme fatigue.
- Make time to unwind. Although pandemic social restrictions have limited many activities and hobbies, it’s worth the effort to find some type of leisure or creative activity that relaxes you.
- Connect with others and talk to people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Digital tools can help keep you stay connected with friends, family, and neighbors.
- Seek professional help when needed. If you feel that COVID fatigue is significantly affecting your ability to function, contact your doctor or a mental health provider.
At Work (Remote or On Site)
Emergency responders, health care workers, and others providing essential services have been stretched thin by working longer hours than usual, working more shifts, and less time to sleep and recharge. This group is especially vulnerable to the physical effects of COVID fatigue. Remote workers, in contrast, often deal with isolation, monotony, new challenges creating their own work spaces or adapting to office equipment and technology at home, and balancing work/life schedules.
Things you can do at work:
- Stay healthy through set eating routines, practicing mindfulness activities, and taking quick walks outside during the day.
- Learn to notice the signs and symptoms of fatigue (such as yawning, difficulty keeping eyes open, inability to concentrate) in yourself and your employees, and take steps to reduce these problems.
- Use a buddy system while you’re at work. Check in with each other to ensure everyone is coping with work hours and demands.
- Find out if your employer has a formal program to help you manage fatigue on the job. Read about the program and ask questions, so that you fully understand your employer’s policies and procedures for helping employees manage fatigue.
- Do not work if your fatigue threatens the safety of yourself or others. Report to a manager if you feel too tired to work safely.
- Recognize that you are in stressful and unusual circumstances and that you may need more sleep or time to recover.
- Set priorities by choosing what must get done today and what can wait. Goals may vary by changes in schedules and routines, so learning to adapt to rapid changes is a good coping tool. Recognize your accomplishments at the end of each day.
- Create specific and separate spaces for where you work and live. Try not to overlap, if possible.
- Set time limits for how long you work in a specific place in the house or on a certain task.
Children and Family
Children and teens react, in part, to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children.
Things you can do to help children:
- Watch for behavior changes in your child, such as excessive crying or irritation in younger children, irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens, poor school performance or avoiding school, and difficulties with attention and concentration.
- Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand. Let them know that it’s okay if they feel upset.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the pandemic, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened by things they do not understand.
- Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. Share with children how you deal with your own stress, so that they can learn from you. Let them see how you take breaks, get plenty of sleep, eat well, and connect with your friends and family members.
- Spend time with your child doing meaningful activities, reading together, exercising, playing, etc.
Click here for more information from UAB Medicine COVID-19, along with links to other health care information sources.