How to Cope When COVID-19 Gets You Down

Strategies for handling coronavirus fatigue, including counterintuitive ideas.

Posted Jul 08, 2020

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Many of us are feeling COVID fatigue.

  • If you had summer plans, they're probably not happening. You're disappointed.
  • You might feel frustrated at other people's irresponsible behavior. If other people you expected to stay vigilant aren't, you may be experiencing a loss of trust, a sense of alienation from other people, or less sense of belonging within your social groups.
  • Perhaps your kids are starting to suffer socially from staying away with their friends. Your heart breaks for them that they're not getting the carefree year of childhood they deserve.

These are all tough feelings. You may not be able to eliminate them but some good strategies will help you improve them.

1. Nail down what your feelings are about. Above, I mentioned a bunch of different scenarios that could be producing COVID-19 stress and fatigue. Only one of these was about missing out on fun. Acknowledge the deeper feelings you have going on, like feeling confused and alienated by other people's behavior. Doing this should help you feel like the strength of your distress is more understandable. 

When we see our distress concretely, it can often feel easier to handle than when it feels floating and diffuse. It can also help to see your reaction as understandable and not as a sign you're psychologically fragile.

2. Expect your feelings to fluctuate. People panic when they feel down or anxious and expect their feelings to stay that way. Or, they worry their feelings will only escalate and get more intense. 

In reality, feelings fluctuate. If you have a particularly tough day emotionally, chances are tomorrow will be more average. When you expect your feelings will fluctuate, intense distressed feelings seem more tolerable. You know you'll bounce back.

3. Acknowledge non-COVID related stress. It's easy to attribute any negative feelings you're having to COVID fatigue. If you have other stress happening, acknowledge that too. For example, I'm about to have a round of IVF that I feel anxious about (especially after several unsuccessful tries). I've also been working on my new book consistently for the last seven months, and although it's going well, fatigue from that is setting in. 

Acknowledging other forms of stress can remind you to try coping actions relevant to those sources. Personally, I could probably use a break from book writing for longer than a weekend, and I should do some meditation to cope with the IVF stress.

When you start thinking about what else is stressing you out, take care not to go down the track of thinking everything is terrible. 

4. Reverse unhelpful coping. Many of us have gotten into routines for coping with COVID-19 now. Some of these might be due for a rethink. Coping strategies that might've genuinely helped initially might've become not so helpful. Perhaps all that extra baking is making you fat and lethargic. Perhaps you've completely stayed away from everyone but you really need some human contact, even if it's a socially distant walk with N95 masks. My colleague, Professor Art Markman, wrote a piece with some good advice about why this can help.

The coping strategies you've been using probably aren't bad per se, but you might be feeling fatigue from them and you need to mix it up.

5. Try something you'd usually feel too inhibited to try. One positive aspect of a crisis is that it can make us feel like the normal rules and barriers don't apply. Things you felt too inhibited to try might feel more possible. For example:

  • If you don't see yourself as an outdoorsy type, maybe you would like to try tent camping.
  • If there is a way you'd like to help others but felt too inhibited to offer that help, why not do it? (Socially responsible innovation doesn't need to be complex. Sometimes it merely requires overcoming psychological barriers to trying your ideas.)
  • Want to be closer to a colleague? Why not try getting to know them a bit more?

If you're a reader of Psychology Today, then psychological growth is probably important to you. When you try something new, you'll feel that sense of growth. This is especially true if it gives you a sense of being more capable or bold than how you think of yourself.

These tips won't completely take away the pain of living in a COVID-19 infested world, but hopefully, they can help it feel more understandable and manageable.