Life as we know it has been completely turned upside down by the pandemic. We are all craving a sense of normalcy after months of feeling cooped up at home, wearing masks, social distancing, endlessly disinfecting surfaces, and working and learning remotely. Sheltering at home can be isolative, stressful, and even financially catastrophic for some. Other stressors during quarantine range from attempting to manage kids and pets while trying to work from home, to simply grieving the loss of casually running to the mall or meeting a friend for coffee. We want to return to old routines, including getting back to work and school. It’s completely understandable to feel more stressed than usual during these unprecedented times.
When the pandemic first started, many people were understandably panicked, worrying about their safety and concerned about staying healthy and alive. Dr. Gail Saltz (psychiatrist) comments that “as terrifying as it all has been for many, these were actionable plans that an individual could take, with a goal in mind, and witness actual change and feel that they accomplished something.” But being in that fight or flight kind of crises mode takes a toll on us, leaving us feeling both physically and emotionally drained. We grow desensitized to that sense of urgency and fear, despite the fact that the dangers associated with COVID-19 are still very real and there is no immediate end in sight.
Experts are saying it could be more than a year before life returns to a “new normal”. Uncertainty with no end date makes a difficult situation that much worse. If we somehow knew when the pandemic would be over, it would be much easier to hunker down knowing there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a strange time- usually home is the safe haven, a place of rest. Yet months of staying home during quarantine has left many fatigued and feeling unrest. What we are left with is a feeling of Quarantine Fatigue.
Quarantine Fatigue has been defined as “exhaustion associated with the new restrictive lifestyle that’s been adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19.” (M.Molke). It is fatigue and emotional exhaustion resulting from prolonged disconnect and isolation from others, loss of routine and a sense of freedom. life can feel like groundhog day, day after day. Symptoms of Quarantine Fatigue vary from person to person, but may include:
• Feeling tense, anxious or irritable
• Disruption in eating or sleeping habits
• Feelings of hopelessness
During this uncertain time, we have to remember how to take care of ourselves in healthy ways. My #1 go to strategy is to employ the “Serenity Prayer”, which simply put, encourages you to focus on the things you can control while accepting the things you can’t. So while we can’t control this virus or when a safe vaccine is available (though i have great hope it will be in the not too distant future), there are several strategies we can utilize in the meantime:
Understand that your feelings are normal.
you are so not alone experiencing feelings like frustration, boredom or cabin
fever. Acknowledge your feelings while finding healthy ways to cope. Talk with
friends and, if needed, seek professional help [we offer both in-person and
teletherapy services at Long Grove Center].
Reframe your thinking
This can also be the “silver lining” approach. While our usual routine may have
been disrupted by the pandemic, many people have enjoyed having more family
time or catching up on home projects.
Redirect attention to what’s possible
where the glass is half full and be creative, like the “drive-by” birthday
parades or home backyard theaters that so many are doing.
Structure reduces anxiety. Make a list, set an alarm, take a daily shower, get
Try one of the countless virtual exercise classes or workout apps, take a walk
Try meditation (apps like Breethe or Calm), schedule a virtual coffee date, or
take an online class to learn a new language or instrument (check out sites
like “Master Class”.)
Like all things, it’s temporary
Nothing lasts forever, including this pandemic. There will be a “new normal”.
Please don’t prematurely stop the precautions recommended by the CDC and other medical experts, Instead, view this time as a journey and we are in it for the long haul. The goal is to find a manageable way to deal with the stress of the pandemic while keeping ourselves and other safe. This too shall pass Be safe and well.
By Dr. Jo Wolthusen