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Signs you have pandemic fatigue and COVID burnout

It can be overwhelming to keep up with COVID-19 precautions month after month. Sheltering in place, homeschooling, wearing a mask in public and avoiding large gatherings and public places have completely disrupted our sense of control and normalcy. A year into the pandemic, you may be experiencing COVID-19 burnout and pandemic fatigue.

“Not being able to do any of our normal activities at this point is causing us to have pandemic fatigue,” says Gweneth Francis, D.O., a Piedmont infectious disease physician. “It’s been so long since we’ve been able to do normal things, like go out to eat without the fear of COVID-19 or have playdates without the fear of our kids getting sick. We’re having to wear a mask and do things we haven’t done before.”

What are signs of COVID fatigue?

Dr. Francis says the following are signs of pandemic fatigue, collectively and individually:

  • A decline in compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing

  • Having anxiety if you even briefly pass by someone who isn’t wearing a mask

  • Feeling tired even after getting enough sleep

  • Lack of motivation or feeling like you don’t have a sense of purpose

  • Snapping at loved ones

  • Feeling depressed and isolated

If you have any of these signs of burnout, the following tips can help.

Assess your mental health and ask for help

Dr. Francis recommends taking some time to reflect on your mental health. Given what we’ve experienced, it is normal to need mental health support right now. Getting support can help you find healthy ways to cope with stress, anxiety, fear and depression.

“Consider if you need to reach out to your physician, a counselor or a loved one to help you through,” she says.

Create a COVID bubble

If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, Dr. Francis suggests creating a “COVID bubble” with a set of family members or friends who are like-minded and take similar precautions. Also known as a “social pod” or “quaranteam,” a bubble can provide a safer way to socialize with people outside your immediate household.

“You can plan events with people in your bubble to help you socialize and maintain good mental health,” she says. “Some people have bubbles where they trust each other and don’t wear a mask. Others continue to wear a mask when visiting with people in their bubble. My bubble is grandparents and one set of friends. With our set of friends, we always wear masks for playdates. But this way, my son can interact with others.”

Find ways to make activities safer

Dr. Francis suggests finding ways to make activities safer to reduce your anxiety. Here are some ideas:

  • If you’re only able to visit the grocery store when it’s crowded, consider doing grocery pickup or delivery instead.

  • When it’s warmer, perhaps you can go out to eat and sit outside on a patio, making sure you’re at least six feet apart from other diners. Or you can support your favorite restaurants by picking up takeout.

  • Meet a friend for a socially-distanced walk (be sure to wear your masks).

Continue to practice caution about COVID-19

“Don’t give up,” says Dr. Francis. “There’s hope with the vaccine. Just having the vaccine out has decreased the anxiety of a lot of healthcare workers. We see an end in sight.”

That said, whether or not you’ve been vaccinated, it’s still essential to wear a mask when you’re around people outside your household, wash your hands often and practice social distancing.

“Remember that wearing a mask isn’t just for yourself, but for our at-risk groups, like the elderly or those who are immunocompromised,” she says. “If you’re fully vaccinated, there’s still a small chance you could have COVID-19 and you don’t want to give it to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet. If we can hold out, hopefully we can get back to some point of normalcy.”

When to seek mental health support

If you’re struggling with COVID-19 depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide or needs urgent mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

If you have persistent feelings of anxiety or depression, schedule a time to talk with your primary care provider or a counselor.

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