4 practical ways to deal with pandemic-related fatigue

Spring 2020 brought an epic upheaval to many of our lives with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, despite losses and setbacks, we’ve been able to adapt how we work, gather, and communicate. As we pass the one-year benchmark, and even in the face of vaccines, treatments, and reopenings, many Americans are experiencing “pandemic fatigue.” We’re getting tired of dealing with the constant stress, causing us to consider risky behaviors.

Like COVID-19, pandemic fatigue can affect anyone—independent of social/political beliefs, age, or socioeconomic status. In a Psychology Today article, psychologists have labeled the pandemic as a “time of collective trauma [1].” In other words, the unrelenting stress (whatever the cause) of the pandemic reaches us all.

Pandemic fatigue’s psychological origins

Understanding the psychology behind pandemic fatigue helps us take concrete steps to fight it. Humans have a unique ability to quickly adapt to challenging situations, which psychologists call “cognitive control [2].” Cognitive control takes motivation, which depends on the perceived value of an action being greater than the effort behind it.

Unfortunately, as the pandemic has continued, effort (like multitasking, dealing with job loss, and feelings of fear and helplessness) may start to outweigh value (like the idea of keeping the community safe). Also, stress causes a response from our nervous system that can lead to burnout and subsequent consequences to long-term health. The heavy mental load can cause us to drop precautions and instead consider risky behavior.

Self-care practices to prevent fatigue

Reducing stress helps ease the effort required to sustain healthy behaviors and makes it easier to do the right thing. Thankfully, clearer guidelines, vaccines, better treatments, and easing restrictions are taking some of the stressful decision-making out of our lives. Here are some other practical ways to prevent pandemic fatigue:

1. Take care of yourself (eating well, sleeping, exercising).

2. Dwell on what you can do instead of what you can’t.[3]

3. Focus on what brings you joy and find new ways to have fun, such as creating new traditions.[4]

4. Remind yourself that you’re not alone by listening to and reading stories of how the pandemic has affected others’ lives.

5. Consistently practicing precautions helps them become second nature—one less thing to remember each day.[5]

Apps like ProtectWell help ease pandemic fatigue by giving us an easy way to monitor our physical health every day and exposure risks. ProtectWell takes the decision-making of whether to stay home or participate in an activity out of our hands.

You are not alone in feeling fatigued by the pandemic. It’s something we all share. Thankfully, it is also something that will ease and that we can take action on today.

[1]The science behind pandemic fatigue. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifting-the-veil-trauma/202012/the-science-behind-pandemic-fatigue. Published December 31, 2020. Accessed April 9, 2021.

[2]Badre D. How we can deal with ‘pandemic fatigue.’ Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-we-can-deal-with-pandemic-fatigue/. Published January 24, 2021. Accessed April 9, 2021.

[3] Cruickshank S. The ills of pandemic fatigue. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19/articles/the-ills-of-pandemic-fatigue.html. Published February 9, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021.

[4]How to deal with coronavirus burnout and pandemic fatigue. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/how-to-deal-with-coronavirus-burnout-and-pandemic-fatigue. Published August 11, 2020. Accessed April 9, 2021.

[5]7 steps to reduce pandemic fatigue. UCLA Health. https://connect.uclahealth.org/2020/07/07/7-steps-to-reduce-pandemic-fatigue/. Published July 7, 2020. Accessed April 9, 2021.