July 6, 2021
After more than a year of strict precautions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are exhausted by even the mention of COVID-19. While we’re getting back to some normalcy, there are still situations where we must follow social distancing.
In those situations where we must wear face coverings and stay six feet apart, many of us find ourselves no longer thinking that the rules matter. This natural reaction could be a sign of pandemic fatigue.
What Is Pandemic Fatigue?
Pandemic fatigue is a mix of emotions like restlessness, frustration, anxiety, boredom, fear and loneliness, all experienced at the same time. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone, as so many of us have lived through this long period of uncertainty.
The World Health Organization (WHO)1 defines pandemic fatigue as a “lack of motivation to follow health protocols which develops slowly over time as an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.” The WHO believes that pandemic fatigue has impacted more than half of the world’s population. As part of their Household Pulse Survey2, which studies how people’s lives have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, 40% of U.S. adults have reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues as a result of COVID-19. Those numbers appear to be growing3 as Americans spend more time in quarantine, too.
What Are the Symptoms of Pandemic Fatigue?
While every individual experiences it differently, there are some common signs that you may be undergoing pandemic fatigue.
- Being stressed out by everyday things that you once easily handled
- Sleeping properly yet still feeling exhausted
- Feeling hopeless
- Losing focus and being unable to concentrate
- Disliking hobbies or things you once enjoyed
- Consuming more food, substances or alcohol
How Can You Reduce These Symptoms?
If You Have Feelings of Loneliness or Hopelessness…
Speak to friends and family who may be struggling with similar emotions. You’ll get support and understanding, plus you might not feel as alone when you connect with someone else.
If You’re Feeling Irritable…
Be mindful of those around you. It may help to share how you’re feeling with them, so they understand why you’ve been upset and may have some coping strategies of their own to help.
If Your Feelings Have You Reaching for a Snack or Drink…
Take the time to identify the feelings that you are experiencing and write them down before instantly reaching for something that gives you momentary relief.
If You’re Feeling Lost...
Check in with yourself every day. Observe and report how you’re feeling inside. You may want to keep a journal or diary so that you can see any patterns that emerge.
If Boredom Is Setting In…
Try a new hobby. Instead of concentrating on what you can’t do, try something you’ve never done before. Take the time for a new exercise routine or exploring art, music or even attempting to learn a new language. Maybe this is the time to complete that home improvement project that you’ve always been meaning to get to!
If You Miss Family and Friends...
Now that more and more people are getting fully vaccinated, why not take some time to plan a trip to see friends and loved ones? Sure, video chats are nice, but nothing beats spending time with people in person to catch up.
If the News Is Getting to You...
We all want to stay up-to-date on what’s happening, particularly with how unpredictable the last year has been. However, you should limit your news consumption to an hour a day and resist the urge to doomscroll, or continually read your social media feeds, which can leave you feeling anxious.
If You Feel “Off”…
The answer is simple: stay on schedule. For many, it helps to stick to regular sleeping (at least seven hours a night) and awake times, as well as keeping their meals on a regular schedule. If you’re working from home, try to stay as close to the normal hours you would have worked in your office. You should also pencil in exercise and reflection time, so that you have things to look forward to throughout your day.
If You’re Feeling Negative…
Think more positively. We all play “what if” scenarios that make us grow anxious. Instead of worrying about the future to come, concentrate on the here and now. Replace worst case scenarios with positive mental energy, reminding yourself of all you’re doing to stay healthy and safe.
MedExpress Pro Tip: One way to encourage a positive mindset is to start journaling. Even if you just jot down a few words, trying to start each day by listing what you’re thankful for can work wonders.
How Can You Stay Safe Despite Pandemic Fatigue?
The truly concerning symptoms of pandemic fatigue happen when we stop caring about our own safety and the health and welfare of our communities. For example, you may find yourself becoming less concerned about wearing a mask in public and maintaining proper handwashing. Or you could be less careful about social distancing practices.
Here are some other tips that may help alleviate your pandemic fatigue and enable healthier behaviors:
Still Keep A Mask and Hand Sanitizer Within Reach. Even though restrictions are easing, it’s important to always have more than one mask and a single bottle of hand sanitizer on hand. After all, masks are still required to be worn indoors in certain businesses. In addition to placing one of each near your front door, consider keeping extras in your car, travel-sized sanitizer and an extra mask in your purse or jacket.
Keep Up with the Latest Safety Measures. When the pandemic first began, experts thought that we would have to wipe down everything that came from outside of our homes with antibacterial cleaners. Today, they believe that we no longer need to do things like quarantining mail or wiping down groceries4. Instead, we should be aware of more pressing concerns, such as masking up in public and avoiding large clusters of people. That said, you should remain flexible and receptive to the latest changes in safety. Use a trusted source of information, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or The WHO, to stay up-to-date.
Stay In Control. Habits like wearing a mask in public, washing our hands properly and remaining socially distanced are some ways that we can maintain control in what has been a very uncontrollable time. Plus, by making a commitment to your safety and the safety of others, you’re doing the right thing.
Don’t Give Up. Try Try a different way of seeing the pandemic, if you can. Just a few decades ago, society didn’t know the health impact of cholesterol, fat and second-hand smoke. By learning how to adjust our diets and habits, so many of us now lead healthier lives. By learning how to change our behavior in this strange time, perhaps we’re discovering new health benefits that will help us when things return to normal, such as proper handwashing and limiting our exposure to others when we don’t feel well. Plus, the vaccine rollouts are proceeding as planned and more and more people are being fully vaccinated every day.
While these suggestions may help, pandemic fatigue isn’t something that will go away overnight. If you or someone that you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis or needs assistance for alcohol or substance use, contact your local helpline for services in your area. They can direct you to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations that can help.
Originally posted February 22, 2021. Updated July 6, 2021.
This content was medically reviewed by Dr. Chris Howard, DO.
Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regime.
1 WHO Europe Discusses How to Deal with Pandemic Fatigue. Last updated October 7, 2020. Accessed December 31, 2020.
2 Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. Last updated August 14, 2020. Accessed January 7, 2021.
3 Anxiety and Depression Household Pulse Survey. Last updated December 21, 2020. Accessed January 7, 2021.
4 Stop wiping down groceries and focus on bigger risks, say experts on coronavirus transmission. Last updated October 22, 2020. Accessed January 7, 2021.