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Coping with COVID Fatigue – One Year Later

It has officially been one year since our world was flipped upside down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries had to close their borders, businesses closed or drastically changed their hours or work protocols, and people everywhere began isolating themselves at home in efforts to control the spread of the virus. So much has happened since March of 2020, and it is safe to say that millions all over the world are experiencing substantial levels of something known as “COVID fatigue,” which is the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that is felt as a result of the current unprecedented times.

At the time, no one really had any indication of what to expect when everything started to shut down, and then working remotely, or not working at all, became the new normal for so many. In addition, being able to see friends and family, as well as being able to just continue living our standard daily lives came to a sudden and complete halt. We not only needed to try to comfort ourselves, but our children who had changes to their school schedule, friends and family who lost their jobs or worked on the front lines- or, if we were the front line workers, comforting family who feared for us while we too felt fear. Due to a full year of life changes, trauma, and unknowns, it is completely understandable that many people are feeling weighed down by COVID fatigue and craving a sense of “normalcy” again. While, with time, our lives will slowly go back into a groove that feels more supportive for us, there are things we can do now to help calm our nervous systems and ground us in the present. Let’s dive in and discuss a few of the useful tactics available to us that we can use to combat COVID fatigue that may be present.

Please note, first and foremost, that it is important to acknowledge this fatigue and not shame yourself for it. While I don’t like to use the word “normal”, I will say it is well within the “norm” to feel COVID fatigue, and feel shame for feeling that fatigue. Remember, you are only human, and your world has shifted and changed in a way you weren’t prepared for, and in a way you haven’t experienced before. Despite this, you have kept going. You have found ways to make it work. And, if something didn’t work, you found a solution. Remember that sometimes the solution is not to take action but to pause, rest, reflect, and give yourself grace during what is still an unpredictable time. In the meantime:

Focus on Gratitude

While it has likely felt close to impossible some days to remain positive, hopeful, and full of gratitude over the last year, this is truly important when it comes to reducing the burnout that is felt as a result of COVID. Putting effort towards focusing on gratitude, especially when our life situation might not be so favorable, can make a world of a difference by reminding us that life will consistently have its ups and downs, and the burnout that is being felt is not forever. There is always something to be grateful for, even when it does not seem that way at first glance. Some ways that gratitude can be integrated into everyday life include:

  • Keeping a daily gratitude journal

You can sit and write down the first things that come to mind that you have gratitude for, but instead, try to sit with the pure feeling that arises when you ponder the specific gratefulness you have- whether that be for your family and loved ones (loved ones include friends, neighbors, and coworkers), having a roof over your head/safe shelter, access to food, time for hobbies or ways to be creative, fresh air to walk in outside, the love of your pet, the ability to access free learning (online courses), the ability to read books or listen to podcasts and take in new information and learn new things, clean water, cell phones and technology for connecting you to people you love, and, if it applies, allowing you to complete your job or schoolwork, the kindness of strangers (you can search feel good stories online of good deeds), and sometimes, simply being grateful you woke up in the morning and are being given a new start, knowing that being given another day means something good can happen and forward, positive movement can happen that day. Letting this feeling of pure gratitude manifest in your heart before writing it down gives it so much more power to fulfill you and stay with you throughout your days. You can find what time of day works best for you to list out your gratitude, including first thing in the morning to start your day, or before bed to end the day on a high note.

  • Pay it forward

When you think of what it means to pay it forward, you might just relate it to doing something nice for another individual when someone has done something kind for you. While these acts of kindness are fantastic and something we need more of in the world, more can be done. The next time someone shows you an act of kindness, take a moment and really consider how wonderful it was that they went out of their way to show compassion, and try to hold onto this feeling of gratitude until you intentionally pay it forward to the next individual whose day you choose to brighten. You can spread this kindness farther (or, even if someone hasn’t done something for you, you can start the chain of good deeds) by looking into charities you would like to support and encouraging others in your circle to join you. This does not mean you need to make monetary donations- a lot of charities need assistance with social media, promoting their cause or needs, or organizing and making phone calls. Being a part of a bigger purpose can help you to feel grounded in the moment, as well as meeting like-minded people to increase socialization, and increasing self-esteem by being reminded you are completing an action that will help others.

Make Time for Yourself

A year is certainly a long time to experience the circumstances that so many have been thrown into, so it is no wonder why so many individuals are experiencing high levels of COVID fatigue. With times being more stressful globally for so many, it is imperative to regularly take moments each week to do something solely for yourself. This can really be anything that you find enjoyment in, such as reading, painting, exercising, baking, going for a walk, taking a bath, listening to music, taking a drive, knitting, yoga, or even playing a game. Setting time aside and showing up for yourself has remarkable benefits on the mental state and will serve as a reset button when the COVID fatigue is bogging you down. Some other creative ways to work in time for yourself are:

  • Turn off the technology

Technology is a phenomenal tool that allows us to be connected to friends, family, and even strangers all over the world. While it is a fantastic tool, it can also be draining and exhausting due to the constant influx of information and news that are funneling through-especially with the current climate of the world. In addition, seeing individuals on social media who you feel may be “coping better than you” can result in feelings of hopelessness and shame. A wise way to make time for yourself is to shut off all of the noise that comes with technology and social media for a full day, and evening, or even an entire weekend and just allow yourself to be present and without the stress of these external factors. If this isn’t possible, as it understandably isn’t for many, mindfully shutting off all technology and social media for even one hour a day can make a significant difference in your mood. Try this for one week and record how you feel after to see if this makes a difference in your mood.

  • Learn a new skill

Most of us have something that we have always said we want to learn or go after, and there is truly no better time to do so than the present moment. With most of us still spending most of our days at home, this can be an excellent way to combat the fatigue felt from COVID. Whether you want to learn how to play a new instrument, how to paint, or you want to learn a new language, taking the time out of your busy life whenever possible to practice and expand your knowledge is a splendid way to show up for yourself and expand your skill set. This can not only give you a sense of accomplishment, but something to look forward to as well. It may be hard to start, but even taking 10 minutes a day to devote to your new project or skill can feel rewarding, and may result in feeling you have the energy in the future to take even more time to do so.

Reach out

Lastly, one of the most crucial steps to take when it comes to combating COVID burnout is to reach out to others when things feel too heavy emotionally and mentally. This can mean reaching out to your closest friends, family members, and definitely to your trusted mental health specialist. Therapy is needed now more than ever, and a significant number of professionals all over the world are able to offer their services via telehealth platforms now to keep things as safe as possible, too. No one should have to weather any storm alone, and speaking about anything that is weighing you down to a mental health professional has the ability to alleviate so many burdens and equip you with the tools to combat COVID fatigue if it makes its appearance in everyday life.

There are bound to be times that we go through in life that are very stressful, but this does not take away from the fact that COVID fatigue is very existent and taking a toll on so many people all over the globe. No one truly knows when everything will go back to “normal” in society, but it is safe to say that so many of us have changed as a result of the last year. Even if you feel you “haven’t had it that bad” during this time, possibly because you were able to keep your job, you are healthy, etc, it does not mean you have not been affected by the stress, change, and worry about those around you, the world as a whole, and your own health and well- being. If you did experience extreme life change in the form of job loss, illness, loss of a loved one, please know there is no time line for how long you need to grieve. Take as long as you need, no matter how COVID has affected you and your loved ones, to feel your feelings and your truth. Feel them, hand over heart, and acknowledge them fully. Then, you can look at one of your self-care tactics to help your nervous system cope with how you are feeling. This is not to dull feelings but to support the body and mind to move with and through these feelings.

Though things have been different, we can be thankful for a few things- likely, going forward, higher safety and health measures in physicians’ offices and public spaces, which will help so many that already were experiencing chronic illnesses or immune deficiencies, more access to healthcare (tele-health) for individuals who had trouble accessing it due to transportation, illness, or busy lives and stressful work hours, increased appreciation for time spent with loved ones, and a deeper sense of empathy for all of those around us. The best thing we can do is to play our part in staying safe and healthy, check in on ourselves regularly, remember that this will slowly get better, and reach out to a mental health specialist whenever you feel you need support. It is absolutely okay, and to be expected, if you are feeling COVID fatigue, and remember that you are never alone or out of options when it comes to coping with it.