By MICHELLE KARAS
Slow and steady wins the race. But what if we don’t know how long the race is?
When Colorado and the rest of the country shut down March 13, I left my office with my laptop and the mindset that I’d be working from home for two weeks, tops.
That two weeks turned into “maybe we won’t go back to the office until after Memorial Day.” Then, “maybe by the end of the summer.” Now we’re talking about the end of the year.
Hopefully as you’re reading this, you’re not sick, but I’m guessing you’re tired. Not a physical sort of tired, but a mental exhaustion and lack of motivation that’s been dubbed “coronavirus fatigue.” I also see the terms “lockdown fatigue,” “pandemic fatigue” and “quarantine fatigue” floating out there on the internet.
“Quarantine fatigue may look different from person to person, but overall, it’s defined as exhaustion associated with the new restrictive lifestyle that’s been adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19,” says Luana Marques, PhD, director of Community Psychiatry PRIDE at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in an article published June 2 on the hospital’s website.
“There is no ’right’ way to feel right now and however you may be feeling is valid in its own right.”
Symptoms of quarantine fatigue, according to Marques, may include:
• Feeling tense, irritable or anxious
• Changes in eating or sleeping habits
• Loss of motivation or reduced productivity
• Racing thoughts
• Interpersonal conflict
• Social withdrawal
“It’s like we’re in the middle of the ocean. The ocean is COVID-19 and we’re not seeing land anywhere. It’s that feeling of helplessness. Like there’s nothing you can do — or you can do everything right and still get sick,” says behavioral health therapist and mind-body coach Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd on the Cleveland Clinic website.
Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, author of “Fragile Power,” says in a recent article on Health.com, that quarantine fatigue stems from the emotional exhaustion the pandemic has placed on our lives. “I’m hearing from all of my clients that they are exhausted from the sheltering in place rules. They feel unkempt. They’re bored. They’re broke. They want to divorce their partner and give away their children,” he says. “This pandemic has elevated the notion of powerlessness and uncertainty to a level we’ve never before experienced.”
But experts suggest there is a light at the end of this tunnel, even if we can’t see it just yet.
“No question, epidemic fatigue or pandemic fatigue is real. We are experiencing it,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, in an interview with the Washington Post last week. “But throughout human history, there have been terrible pandemics and contagious threats. Every civilization, every nation, has come through to the other side. And we will, too.”
The ennui feels selfish. I’m not a first responder, medical professional or frontline worker, risking my life for others every day. I am employed, healthy and count my blessings every day.
I realized after that first fraught month of quarantine, worrying there was something I needed to be doing that I wasn’t doing, that I actually like working from home, though I miss the camaraderie of my newsroom.
Yet I do feel the ennui and the “extra” level of stress that I think most of us are feeling. There are ways to quell it. Here are some tips the health experts I’ve quoted here have shared to help cope with quarantine fatigue:
1. Get outside. Walk the dog or just sit on your porch enjoying the sunshine. We live in a beautiful place. Take it in.
2. Practice self-care. This can be as simple as taking a shower, moving your body, making sure you’re eating nourishing food and sleeping enough.
3. Practice mindfulness. For starters, I suggest listening to the locally produced new Mindfulness and Positivity Project podcast, which I wrote about here last month. Its founders suggest mindfulness techniques we all can do — such as grounding, meditating and journaling — to help manage stress.
4. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. “There’s a difference between self-care and self-soothing. While there is a place for things such as binge-watching TV, or overeating, I would suggest people ask themselves: ‘is this contributing to my long-term well-being,’” said Susie Bell, a certified worksite wellness manager with Indiana University Health.
5. Find ways to connect. “While we may need to be physically distant from our friends and loved ones, we don’t need to be socially distant,” said Robert Waldinger, MD, director of the Center for Psychodynamic Therapy and Research at Mass General. “Use this extra time to reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, make family dinner a fun event and invest in the relationships around you.”
6. Maintain a level of caution ... but don’t overdo it. “Fight or flight response protects us but when we are in chronic fight or flight mode it can lead to insomnia, heart disease, stomach issues and more,” Bell says. “Determine your comfort level and stick with it. If you feel best wearing a mask in public, don’t second guess yourself and be sure to monitor those physical symptoms such as chest pain or upset stomach.”
7. Take a break from the news. Yep, I’m in the news biz, and I said it. There’s a lot going on these days, and it can be overwhelming. If you find yourself overcome by the news of the day, put down your newspaper or magazine or turn off your device and start back at step 1.
We will get through this.
Editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers weeklies, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for five years. Contact Michelle with column or story ideas, feedback and letters to the editor at email@example.com.