COVID Fatigue

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If it feels like the pandemic is dragging on endlessly, you are not alone.

That feeling is so ubiquitous in fact that it has been dubbed “COVID fatigue.”

Though not a clinical diagnosis, the World Health Organization uses the term to describe a real phenomenon.

It’s the feeling that comes from life changes resulting from the pandemic. Wearing masks, little-or too much work, changes in schooling, fear of the virus striking, lack of socializing and entertainment, shortages of goods or services and remote everything — all add up to COVID-19 fatigue.

“If we think of ourselves, we probably all feel it on some level,” said Kathryn Pagliaroli, a registered nurse who serves as corporate director of integrated healthcare for Oswego Health. “We miss going places, and seeing people, we are tired of wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.”

As a result of this weariness, it’s easy to feel like giving up.

“People start to lose interest in following recommended guidelines that have been put into place to protect them,” Pagliaroli said.

For those with existing mental health challenges, the restrictions caused by the pandemic add further strain. Isolation, changes in routines and uncertainty can exacerbate some mental health issues. Reaching out to therapists for remote sessions can be helpful, even though it is not the same as meeting in person.

Regarding general COVID fatigue, “there are ways to combat this feeling,” Pagliaroli said.

She advises healthcare providers to acknowledge the hardships many people face and to seek their input. Providers also need to “make sure people have accurate information about what is happening in their community” which may help people remain engaged.

While many people turn to virtual versions of what they want to do—virtual concerts, virtual work meetings, virtual events — this too can become wearisome.

“There are lots of activities that are not as good as doing it live with your friends,” said Douglas Goldschmidt, licensed clinical social worker practicing in Syracuse.

Though virtual participation is not as good as in person, he added that it is better than doing nothing at all.

Feeling disappointment in going virtual may particularly goad people who feel like they’re missing out on a life experience they will not have again, such as college students who forgo typical dorm life and collegiate activities.

“This is a major part of college life and development, but that’s too bad,” Goldschmidt said. “There’s an epidemic going on. I think what we’ll see is as the pandemic goes on, they’ll get more sophisticated as to what can be allowed with a reasonable amount of safety which we didn’t have months ago. We’ll look at ways of minimizing the level of infection. Hopefully, they’ll become more skillful in allowing social activities.”

The fear of missing out — abbreviated as FOMO in social media parlance — is all too real for collegians. Goldschmidt said that because young adult’s brains do not entirely finish developing a full sense of morality and moral responsibility until age 23 or 24, it could explain why this age group has struggled to resist COVID fatigue and to comply with safety guidelines.

“They get it intellectually,” he said. “They know they’ll die someday. But they don’t really get it. They go out to a party and don’t think about that they could give COVID to anyone else in the dorm or their parents. It’s a different sense of responsibility.”

Jennifer R. Winiarczyk-Nalle, board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Loretto, said that the social aspects of the pandemic are behind many people’s COVID fatigue.

“We’re social beings,” she said. “It’s so hard to be told you can’t socialize. It does feel stifling, overwhelming and depressing, but we’re all in this together.”

The feelings may prove especially difficult during the holiday season; however, finding new ways to safely celebrate may help.

“I know one of the things I’m doing is Christmas cards for all my patients — the first time I’ve done something like that,” Winiarczyk-Nalle said.

She encourages people to limit social media and instead revisit things they have not done in a long time, like send physical Christmas cards, bake special treats and watch feel-good festive movies at home.

“Use Facetime and Skype to visit with family that you can’t be with,” she said. “I love Facetime and Skype and I never liked them before this. If you don’t have that availability, use the telephone to stay connected.”

Self-care steps like eating right, keeping a regular sleep schedule and taking time to manage stress in a healthful way can also minimize the effects of COVID fatigue because they offer some control over life and provide structure and routine.

“I’ve heard from people that they’ve been in their PJs for a month and then they’re not eating well and they’re staying up late and not sleeping well,” Winiarczyk-Nalle said.

She advises limiting social media to avoid the negativity that it provides.

Showing a little kindness to yourself can also help, as a little treat or something to look forward to can break up the monotony.

It’s also vital to remember that others are struggling, too. Reach out to friends and family members to ask how they’re doing. Chances are, they feel how you do.