Facing pandemic burnout

Are you feeling exhausted and run down even though the year has just begun? You’re not alone. These could be symptoms of “pandemic fatigue”. Abdurahman Kenny, mental health portfolio manager at Pharma Dynamics, says among the primary reasons for feeling mentally drained during the pandemic is being in a constant state of high alert, which takes its toll on our energy levels over a prolonged period.

“Similar to physiological threats, when faced with psychological stressors, it takes up a lot of energy,” he says. “Anxiety, depression and stress are exhausting by nature and have a huge impact on our mood, ability to concentrate and our energy levels.

“Add more than a year of living through a pandemic to the mix and it takes matters to an entirely different level. We’ve been in constant fight or flight mode and many have reached a mental health breaking point,” he adds.

Abdurahman says those who are starting the year off still working or studying remotely, are also feeling the compounded effects of hours of video conferencing, lectures or seminars that have been forced online due to COVID-19.

“Many feel they are being pushed to do more than ever before,” he explains. While the use of Zoom, Skype, Teams and Google Meet have now become commonplace, video conferencing can be exhausting. Kenny explains why it is a lot more taxing for our brains than face-to-face engagements.

“When on a video call our brain must work much harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone and pitch of voice and body language. Having to pay more attention to these cues can become tiring,” he notes.

“Our minds are together when our bodies are not. That dissonance causes mental confusion and can be exhausting. It’s important to think about ways to optimise video conferencing to reduce fatigue. Do this by setting strict time limits on meetings, taking regular breaks and drawing up an agenda to focus on only pertinent points during the discussion, otherwise it can drag on for hours.”

“Similarly, the constant bombardment of information around COVID-19 on TV, radio, social media and other forms of media has also contributed to the mental exhaustion experienced by so many,” Abdurahman says. “The natural reaction to this is to back away or retreat to a safe space. The brain simply can’t cope with the overload.”

“In some cases, pandemic fatigue could induce reckless behaviour, such as ignoring or abandoning precautionary health measures altogether. This type of conduct can put you, your loved ones and society at risk. No matter how intense your fatigue around the crisis, you should continue to exercise caution for as long as COVID-19 remains a threat,” he encourages.

If you’re suffering from pandemic fatigue, try the following coping mechanisms to help you stay the course:

  • Recognise and deal with signs of COVID-19 fatigue as soon as they arise instead of repressing them. Re-evaluate your situation and behaviour(s) by putting things in perspective. Write down your thoughts or discuss it with someone close to you.
  • Don’t be a martyr by continuing to self-isolate if you’re not sick. Practicing social distancing doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself completely from others. Humans have an innate need for social connection. Make time to see close friends and family (in person) at least weekly.
  • Create a healthy routine that will make you and your family thrive in the new normal, such as eating right, drinking enough water, going to bed early, exercising, limiting caffeine or alcohol intake, enjoying meals together etc.
  • Practice self-care. While it may be difficult with competing work and family demands, it’s important to create time for yourself and to not feel guilty about it. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, reading or getting creative – find something that invigorates your body and mind.
  • Limit media consumption by following one or two reliable sources of information, which can help you sift through information without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Plan fun outings and things to look forward to without putting you or loves ones at risk.
  • Give yourself a pep talk every morning to stay positive.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you’re not as productive or motivated as you used to be, it’s okay, we’re all living through a time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty.
  • Get some sunshine by working in the garden or going for a walk. Sunlight has a direct impact on our mood and general well-being.
  • If your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks, it may be more than just pandemic burnout and could have progressed into a mental condition such as depression, a mood or anxiety disorder. If this is the case, you need to seek professional help. Don’t be embarrassed about it. We all need a little help from time to time and we’re living in extraordinary challenging times.

“It is important to watch for early warning signs of burnout, such as feeling withdrawn, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, low mood and feelings of helplessness during the pandemic and to put strategies in place to work towards a healthier and balanced lifestyle,” Abdurahman concludes.

If you feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, be sure to reach out to a specialist to provide you with more assistance.

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