Are You Suffering from Pandemic Fatigue?

Research reveals six powerful strategies for resilience and renewal.

Posted Feb 10, 2021

 Pete Linforth/Pixabay
Source: Pete Linforth/Pixabay

COVID-19 has brought us a year of anxious uncertainty. Sheltering in place, working remotely, or facing daily hazards as essential workers, we’ve been unable to see our extended families, meet a friend for coffee, or even go to the gym, a baseball game, concert, or movie. Some of us have lost loved ones, leaving a heartbreaking hole in our lives. All of us have lost touch with the normal rhythms of life. With no breaks in routine and fewer simple pleasures, the past few months have been an endless blur. Recent studies have shown that depression rates in America have tripled since the pandemic began (Berman, 2020).

Anxiously venturing out in gloves and masks, juggling remote learning and child care, or sitting at our desks for endless Zoom meetings, we can feel emotionally depleted and exhausted. As business psychologist Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg says, “It feels like the whole world is tired” (Wedell-Wedellsborg, 2020). We could be experiencing what psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier (1976) have called “learned helplessness,” the feeling that nothing we do can make any difference.

Yet as psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1984) realized when he was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, even in the worst of circumstances, we always have a choice. We may not always be able to control external events but we can choose how to respond to them. Research in positive psychology reveals six powerful choices you can make to create greater resilience and lift the fog of pandemic fatigue.

1. You can move. Research has shown that sedentary behavior, as in sitting through endless Zoom meetings, can be hazardous to our health (Thorp, Owen, Neuhaus, & Dunstan, 2011). Studies have also shown how exercise can alleviate depression and improve our emotional and physical health (Blake, 2012). To add more movement to your life, you can take exercise breaks, get up and stretch every 90 min, go outside, take a walk with your dog. And if you can’t go to the gym, you can find many exercise classes online from aerobics to Pilates and yoga.

2. You can take a mindful pause. Positive psychology coach Ilene Berns-Zare (2020) encourages us to pause, take a deep mindful breath, ask ourselves what we’re feeling and what we feel called to do. Instead of focusing on everything we can’t do, she challenges us to think about what we can, asking “Is there some window through which there might be an opportunity?” While working remotely, she’s taken up playing the guitar (Berns-Zare, 2021, personal communication; Niemiec, 2018).

3. You can add structure to your days. Berns-Zare also recommends making a list of your goals for the day, then reviewing what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day and checking these items off the list. She encourages us to give thanks for the positive moments of the day. Research has shown that gratitude practices can bring us greater joy and meaning (Berns-Zare, 2021, personal communication; Bono, Emmons, & McCullough, 2004).

4. You can shift your attitude. The HeartMath Institute recommends attitude breathing to shift our attitude from a depleting emotion (such as anxiety, worry, overwhelm, boredom, self-pity) to a renewing and replenishing emotion (such as calm, clarity, appreciation, or energy). To do this, you can:

  • Recognize and name the depleting emotion, then think of a replenishing emotion you’d like to feel instead.
  • Take slow deep breaths, focusing your attention on your heart space as you inhale for five seconds, then exhale for five seconds.
  • Consciously breathe in the new replenishing emotion. 

Your ability to shift can improve with practice.

5. You can connect. We all need connections. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (2013) has found that “micromoments of connectivity,” small moments to connect with friends and neighbors, make us healthier and happier. While the pandemic limits your ability to meet people in person, there are still ways to connect. You can send a card, make a phone call, even look up an old friend on LinkedIn. And you can create new connection rituals. I used to meet my friends Linda and Laura for lunch once a month. Now we meet for coffee breaks on Zoom every other Friday afternoon to connect and catch up. What are some new ways you can find to connect?

6. You can have fun. My friend, sports psychologist Jerry Lynch, used to say “If it’s not fun, you’re done.” We all need moments of joy in our lives. Make time for what you enjoy. Get out that old musical instrument, embrace an old hobby or begin a new one—gardening, crafts, painting, cooking. There’s a lot of cooking going on these days. What brings joy to your life? Choose one joyous practice to look forward to each day and do it.

Remember, no matter what is happening in your life, you always have a choice.

This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Berman, R. (2020, September). US cases of depression have tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic. Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/us-cases-of-depression-have-tripled-during-the-covid-19-pandemic#About-the-study

Berns-Zare, I. (2020). 5 keys to begin a positive shift in your life now. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/flourish-and-thrive/202011/5-keys-begin-positive-shift-in-your-life-now.

Berns-Zare, I. (2021, February). Personal communication. For more about Ilene’s work and writing, see her Psychology Today blog, Flourish and Thrive, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/flourish-and-thrive and her website, https://ibzcoaching.com/

Blake, H. (2012). Physical activity and exercise in the treatment of depression. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 3, 106.

Bono, G., Emmons,R., & McCullough, M. E.(2004). Gratitude in practice and the practice of gratitude. In P.A. Linley & S. Joseph (eds.). Positive psychology in practice, (pp. 464-481). Hoboken, N. J.: John Wiley & Sons.

Frankl, V.E. (1984). Man’s search for meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. Originally published in 1959.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: Finding happiness and health in moments of connection. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group.

The HeartMath Institute offers research-based strategies for transforming our attitudes and renewing our energy at https://www.heartmath.org/

Lynch, J. Personal communication from years ago. For more about Jerry’s work and philosophy, see his website, https://www.wayofchampions.com/

Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. (1976). Learned helplessness: theory and evidence. Journal of experimental psychology: general, 105(1), 3.

Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe Publishing.

Thorp, A. A., Owen, N., Neuhaus, M., & Dunstan, D. W. (2011). Sedentary behaviors and subsequent health outcomes in adults: A systematic review of longitudinal studies, 1996-2011. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41, 207-215. 

Wedell-Wedellsborg, M. (2020, December 15). How to lead when your team is exhausted. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2020/12/how-to-lead-when-your-team-is-exhausted-and-you-are-too