COVID sucks. I know every iteration of this has been said every day for the past almost three years, but it honestly cannot be said enough. You may be so “done” with COVID that you don’t even want to read this article; and that’s fine. Typically we’d reserve these newsletter pieces for information on coping and how you can build resiliency for various stressors and mental health concerns, and while we’ve briefly mentioned COVID in other pieces, we wanted to stare it straight in the face today. This article is also to give you some sense of validation; validation that you are absolutely exhausted right now, and that with everyone that’s going on in the world your exhaustion is normal.

There’s a term that’s been slowly creeping its way into modern vocabulary; a term that seems to hit the nail on the head, while also seemingly missing the mark. That term is “COVID burnout” (AKA “pandemic fatigue”) and it’s highly likely, particularly if you are reading this little think piece, that you have it, or suspect that you have it. Unless you’ve been fully isolated from the modern world, I would say it’s probably unlikely that you don’t have COVID burnout. What is COVID burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines pandemic fatigue as being “demotivated” and exhausted with the demands of life during the COVID crisis. The symptoms of COVID burnout can include:

  • A decline in compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing (dangerous, dangerous. Please do not do this)
  • Having anxiety if you even briefly pass by someone who isn’t wearing a mask
  • Feeling tired even after getting enough sleep
  • Lack of motivation or feeling like you don’t have a sense of purpose
  • Snapping at loved ones
  • Feeling depressed and isolated
  • Things are upsetting you that previously hadn’t
  • You’re feeling hopeless about the future
  • You’re not engaging in things you used to find enjoyable
  • You may find yourself consuming more alcohol/substances
  • You’re finding it more difficult to focus and concentrate

One of the trickier parts of this phenomenon is that with typical burn-out symptoms it can help to isolate yourself from the thing that is directly contributing to your burn-out. In the case of a world-wide pandemic, you cannot do that. So what is the solution you may ask? That’s an incredibly complicated question that doesn’t really have a good answer. There may be some strategies you can use to help, but when you are in the midst of a trauma it is almost impossible to fully cope with or heal from that trauma.

You add this onto the already existing burnout levels in the healthcare field, mental health world, transportation realm, retail industry, teaching field, etc. and you have a recipe for mass resignations from people who already don’t have the resources to cope with the stress related to their job. There’s been a drastic increase in behavioral and mental health concerns for children as well; teachers, parents, and mental health professionals can all attest to this. Adults are struggling too; the rate at which mental health services have been utilized has dramatically increased over the past couple years. People are struggling, and a lot of it is because of COVID.

There’s a strange phenomenon in which we outwardly tell one another that it’s “okay to not be okay” while simultaneously demanding more and more from one another. This needs to stop. People are being pushed to their limits, so much so that the physical and mental toll is extreme. Suicide rates have been on the rise since the dawn of the pandemic; one might argue that the COVID pandemic has created another pandemic, a mental health pandemic.

This is all incredibly depressing. It’s information we are aware of; I’m sure everything you’ve read so far has not been shocking in the slightest. It’s just to say that if you are struggling right now, it is for a reason. You are not crazy or losing your mind, you are still surviving a worldwide crisis in which you no longer have the energy reserves to cope with.

So what can you do? Well, use your regular coping strategies of course; I’m not here to reiterate basic coping strategies, we have plenty of articles detailing exactly how to cope with different stressors. And also try a couple of the following:

Try bundling little tasks together  

Listen, I know you don’t have motivation right now. I’m talking about when you find the motivation (we all have those random days where motivation just seems to hit us out of nowhere); take advantage of it. If there are small tasks you have been meaning to do, try to do them together. Make a rule: 2-3 small tasks at a time. You’ll thank yourself later for getting them done.

Take time off if you have it

This one is difficult. Not to get on my soapbox, but Americans in general are not given a decent amount of time off from work. If you are lucky enough to have it though, take it. I get that saving it all up for an emergency is smart; I bet there have even been instances in which you were grateful you saved up all your time for that one big emergency. However, if you are at the end of your rope and feel absolutely no motivation, take one day off. It’s not going to hurt you; if anything it will give you just a little bit of extra time to decompress.

Switch off from social media/avoid the news

Life is about balance. This doesn’t mean you have to totally avoid social media and news outlets. It just means take a break. The constant influx of information our brains receive on a daily basis is not good for us. If you have to, set a timer for how long you are going to stay off Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter, or TikTok. It’s hard to do, but make an active goal to cut down on social media usage. Remember to stay informed, that’s important, but if you tend to watch the news every day that can contribute an incredible amount of negative information to your life. Again, take a little break and come back to it when you are ready.

Stick to social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing

This can help to establish more of a sense of control over your life. If you have found yourself slacking from following COVID guidelines, pick them back up. A lot of feelings of nervousness and anxiety can often stem from feeling a lack of control over your situation; this is one way to assert more control in your life, in addition to protecting those around you. And please get the vaccine; the more people who are vaccinated the less likely the virus is to spread and kill people

Reevaluate your expectations

This is another tough one, but there is a likelihood that your expectations for yourself, for others, even for the prognosis of the pandemic are too high. History over the past couple years has taught us that our “predictions” for when COVID will be “over” have been incredibly inaccurate; it may be worthwhile to take a step back and adjust expectations for then the pandemic will “end” (if at all). Having conversations with loved ones and family members about the possibility of a long-time adjustment to COVID could be beneficial for processing this idea, and also for planning what that will look like for you. Expectations that you will feel 100% better if you just do that one salon day, or take that one retreat, might also need to be readjusted. Have patience and compassion for not only yourself, but those around you. These times are really, really difficult for everyone. Patience and compassion right now can go a long way.

By Marion White, LMHC, Senior EAP Counselor