COVID fatigue is an inevitable consequence of the undue stress of this pandemic. People are really struggling with no reprieve from kids, from bills, from being cooped up inside the same four walls. Some people are tossing their masks—risking infection for themselves and their community—simply because they can’t take it anymore.
Undue stress is an understatement for 2020. The pandemic has brought wholesale change to all of us, including fear and grief for lost loved ones, lost jobs, and lost way of life. But more than that, we’ve also had a year of divisive politics, racial tensions, civil unrest, a fluctuating economy, and angry rhetoric in social media.
It’s no wonder that we find ourselves snapping at each other over everything from spilt milk to unpaid bills and everything in between. Some families and friends have even stopped speaking to each other.
There’s no silver bullet to resolve COVID fatigue. No one-size-fits-all solution to healing the pain we cause each other when angry or unable to resolve differences of opinion. But there are several things we can do to try healing the rift or prevent one from occurring in the first place.
Keep perspective. Thankfully, we have access to 21st century medicine and can be confident that this pandemic is temporary. It’s just one year, maybe two, which is hard, but doable in the grand scheme of things. It’s all temporary.
Have compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling angry, hopeless, or terrified. These are normal feelings for the times, and you are not alone. Be forgiving of yourself and those around you.
Shift to gratitude. You can choose how you interpret what is happening around you. Feeling gratitude will help you not sweat the small stuff and strengthen you when facing something more serious.
Prepare for anger. You are going to feel angry. Everyone does. So, think about what you can proactively do to manage those feelings. In the gap between the impulse to act on your anger and the action itself, you have choices. What do you want to do the next time you feel angry?
Recognize the signs of anger. Notice the changes in your body that precedes an outburst of anger. You might feel tension in your jaw, heat in your face, or tightness in your gut. If you pay attention to these cues, you can step back and take a breath. Walk away. Don’t send that email until the next day. It is much harder to walk back impulsive words and repair their damage than to not say them at all.
Resist self-medicating. Anger is impulsive, often born of feeling powerless and helpless about the situation around you. Be mindful about self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, overeating, or spending too much money to manage those feelings. In the long run, they can make things worse.
Look beneath the anger. Your anger may be masking underlying depression, sadness, anxiety, or other emotion. Perhaps you are upset that you can’t visit your new grandchild in another state. Or you need time off from work, a day trip away, or some other kind of reprieve. Ask yourself what else you are feeling and why.
Clear the air. Cold-shouldering isn’t good for you, and it isn’t good for anyone in the household or office. Perhaps the other person wants to make up, too, and doesn’t know how. If you feel safe to do so, then be the first to apologize. Not for your opinion, but for how you expressed it.
Take responsibility. Use “I” statements when communicating. (I’m sorry. I want to get along with you. I value our relationship.) Don’t try to explain or rationalize the way you behaved. Own your part without any expectation that the other person will own theirs.
Practice good communication. Difficult subjects should not be discussed through texts and emails. Face-to-face is best because much of what we communicate is nonverbal. Together, decide on ground rules for discussing topics where you differ, like politics. Dialogue to share points of view, not to change minds. Keep things constructive, not personal or threatening. Listen thoughtfully and respectfully.
Seek help. The counterbalance to anger and frustration is cultivating positive reactions, such as patience, focus, and compassion. Sometimes that is easier said than done. It’s okay to ask for help through therapy, couples counseling, or your primary care doctor, to name a few.
We are living through a momentous year of hardship and perseverance that will appear in school textbooks one day. It is normal to feel angry and afraid. But remember, we are also resilient and resourceful. We can do hard things.
A vaccine will come. Until then, we can resist the temptation to lower our guard. We can wear masks, social distance, and avoid gathering in groups for another year if necessary. We’re in a worldwide marathon to beat this virus. As long as we support and truly connect with each other, we can reach the finish line and show future generations how it’s done.
Saratoga Hospital offers behavioral health services through our Primary Care practices, medication management and counseling at Saratoga Community Health Center, Inpatient Mental Health services (for those at risk of harming themselves or others), as well as substance abuse and behavioral health counseling through our Addiction Medicine services. Learn more at SaratogaHospital.org.
If your stress or anxiety is keeping you from getting through your day for longer than a week, or you cannot shake serious feelings of sadness and depression, call your healthcare provider right away. You can also call:
• SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
• Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
• Suicide Prevention Coalition of Saratoga County: 1-800-273-8255
• Saratoga County Crisis Line Hotline: 1-518-584-9030
• Wellspring Domestic Violence Hotline: 518-584-8188
• NYS Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-342-3720
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline:1-800-273-8225
• NYS Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906
• Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center Hotline: 1-518- 689-4673