How to Deal with COVID-19 Burnout and Pandemic Fatigue

By: Lester J Olinde Jr., LPC-S

We’ve been living with COVID-19 for several months, and the spread of coronavirus is currently on the rise in many areas around the U.S. and the world. As the pandemic continues on, it’s understandable that some people are getting tired of taking precautions.

Before 2020, the general population was not wearing masks or having to distance themselves from others. Just last Christmas, we were having parties, hugging loved ones and shaking hands with each other. In the span of two - three months, we were isolating from loved ones and trying to keep ourselves safe. We found out soon enough that keeping up with it all can be overwhelming.

Sustained behavior change is difficult. It is very important for people within our schools, hospitals, workplaces, and public areas to have integrity about safety precautions. Integrity is doing what is required of you when no one is watching.

COVID-19 Dangers and Consequences

It can feel bizarre to reorganize your life around a risk that doesn’t seem real. As of now, most people are still detached from the consequences of getting COVID. The danger might not feel tangible to them if they don’t know anyone who has had COVID-19 or died from it. As the pandemic continues, we’re all suffering from pandemic fatigue. To protect loved ones and ourselves, we must continue to stay focused.

Tips to Make Coronavirus Safety Measures Easier

Make a commitment to yourself and others.

Behavior changes can begin by making a promise to yourself and having a clear intention of how you view this. Prior to the pandemic, most of us wore seatbelts, stopped at stop signs, and used caution when crossing the street. This behavior came from within and normally didn’t require outside influences to ensure we followed though. You want to do the right thing to keep yourself and others safe, even if that means a slight inconvenience. The same principle can apply to washing hands, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask in public.

Stay flexible as recommendations change.

When Bruce Lee spoke of his style and philosophy of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do, he would often say, “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” In other words be flexible. Each day things change when new facts are emerging as we learn more about this virus. Things from today may contradict facts from yesterday. Instead of being frustrated and angry, remind yourself today that you know more than in the past. Evolve with the change that is occurring.

Stick with reliable, trustworthy information. New facts are emerging as we learn more and more about this virus.

Practice precautions until they’re second nature.

Make putting on a mask, washing hands often, and cleaning areas at home and at work a habit. Be a good example for your children. Children need routine and will often remind you if you are not following through.

Be aware of your emotions.

Pandemic Burnout is a special type of life stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with the uncertainty of the future based on the evolution of the virus. As humans, we are not meant to live life in a constant state of stress.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, patients, or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel dissatisfied about your life?
  • Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing burnout. Be sure to consult your doctor or a mental health provider, however, some of these symptoms can also indicate certain health conditions which may need to be ruled out by your primary care physician.

What are the consequences of pandemic burnout?

Ignored or unaddressed pandemic burnout can have significant consequences, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • A negative spillover into personal relationships or home life
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes, especially in women
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Remember, if you think you might be experiencing pandemic burnout, don't ignore your symptoms.

  • Manage the stressors that contribute to pandemic burnout. Once you've identified what's fueling your feelings of pandemic burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.
  • Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Are you remembering the joy of why you do what you do in the first place? Do you remind yourself about the joy that you give others? Have you seen how you have changed lives? Work is constant change but learning how to be more efficient can help you do more in less time. Changing the order that you do things or create new lessons that you have never used can make it fun.
  • Adjust your attitude. If you've become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize that being cynical is a “red flag” that you are having issues. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy. You need to take the time to turn off your phone and relax. BE SELFISH SOMETIMES AND SAY, “THIS IS MY TIME!!”
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope with life stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.
  • Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide on changes you need in your life. Create a bucket list for yourself. Try and decide what goals you still want to accomplish in your life. Life is a journey and not a destination.
  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help you get your mind off work and focus on something else. Research has shown that a minimum of 20 minutes of walking is extremely therapeutic to reduce stress and depression.
  • Get some sleep. Sleeps restores well-being and helps protect your health. Aim for at least 8 – 9 hours each night.
  • Stay hydrated - Dehydration can affect your mood along with how your body functions.
  • Remember why you do what you do. If you were to step out of yourself and look into the window of your life, what would you see? What things would you tell yourself?

Most importantly, vigilance is a price we must consistently pay.