I picked up dinner at a local restaurant in Austin the other day, and just before I walked in, I realized I had forgotten my mask. Unsure of the restaurant’s policy, I opened the door ajar and asked if they had a disposable mask. one of the employees responded, “Don’t worry! Are you okay! No mask required! “I had a visceral memory of an altercation that I had months before, in the same restaurant, where a woman approached me because she felt I was too close to her. The total confusion surrounding policy changes seemingly overnight is a one of the many reasons many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue.
As an outgoing, introverted and social butterfly at heart, my social reorientation has been seen as flashes of strange and nostalgic experiences (see: restaurant interaction), happy human interaction … and … total fatigue.
It is a combination of a sudden wave of events and the weight of solidarity. I can feel our shared anxiety as we resurface in the world. And to tell the truth, I miss my intimate little group.
The far western world, in particular Canada and the United States, has the privilege of referring to the pandemic in the past tense thanks to widespread vaccinations. Only we have not experienced just one pandemic, but two: an intersection between COVID-19 other Social isolation.
As we begin to congregate again, we must take gentle care of ourselves and others. After all, despite our proverbial loneliness, we’ve been through the last 18 months together.
I’ve put together my thoughts and research on pandemic fatigue, social anxiety, and what to do about it. I’d love to hear how you have navigated reentry in the comments below.
* Note * The following information applies to the US I am well aware that equitable global access to vaccines, among other safety practices, still a desperate need.
Understanding pandemic fatigue
If you feel exhausted or burned, then you are not alone. We have all reached the end of our rope by working hard to deal with the aftermath of a pandemic. Our experiences have spanned the gamut: loss of loved ones or jobs, loss of once-in-a-lifetime experiences like weddings and graduations; cutting ourselves off from our favorite hobbies and spending time with loved ones, or even just covering half our faces on a daily basis.
As we reenter the world, pandemic fatigue looms. Paul Nestadt, MD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, explains that burnout has the unfortunate ability to reduce resilience, which in turn heightens feelings of dread . Ironically, our tiredness and our ability to recover are reduced, so we struggle to cope with our negative feelings. That turns into more anxiety and more fatigue … aka chronic stress.
Now pile up this sudden resurgence, an increase in meetings, the fall of the COVID protocol and precautions, and boom: pure overwhelming. Lynette luckersActing head of the counseling department at Community College of Philadelphia says there is a difference between feeling tired and feeling exhausted. She says,
“Tiredness is a state, but exhaustion is a trait. Together they create this endless loop of fatigue. “
Rest and rejuvenate in your own time
Sleep is (basically) everything
I have been told over and over again that sleep is the number one cure for almost everything (also, water). We tend to overcomplicate health leading to paralysis.
But some of the best practices are extremely simple.
Behavioral Sleep Medicine Provider Lisa Medalie, PsyD and creator of DrLullaby, says: “Optimizing control over stress will support optimization of sleep.” She suggests 7 to 8 hours of sleep and intentional bedtime habits to ensure a healthy night’s sleep.
Don’t underestimate the power of therapy
Although we are re-entering society and spending more time with people than in months, many of us still have feelings of loneliness. When you repress emotions, opinions, and concerns, no matter how many people surround you, a sense of isolation is undeniable.
Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, explains: “The definition of trauma is an event that threatens people’s sense of security and stability, which is this pandemic.” It is very important to speak openly about the things that we are struggling with.
A healthy conversation leads to a deeper connection and security. And human beings are organically resistant to traumatic events once the trauma is resolved.
Alone Go outside
I was recently asked, “What brings you joy right now?” I immediately thought of my husband and of a Sunday we had spent with our dogs. We basically parked. We hiked a beautiful trail before sunset in Barton Springs, and I lay under a mimosa tree while he swam, it was pure bliss.
Extravagant plans aren’t necessary and you don’t have to take a road trip to find nature, it’s all around you. And when you immerse yourself in it, it’s hard to deny the beauty that surrounds us all the time.
Manage your expectations
This is incredibly important to high achievers (I talk to me).
While many of us accomplished some pretty incredible feats during quarantine, we also struggled to tackle to-do lists … while reading stories about people like Edvard Munch, who painted incredible self-portraits of his physical condition after contracting the Spanish flu (or was it just me?).
While it’s important to stay active, get things done, and take care of yourself, it’s just as important to check.
You will find that some of the best days of your life happened because you set out to do absolutely nothing.
Set three daily goals
This simple framework around goal setting has led to incredible personal growth. There is nothing more satisfying than doing what you set out to do. Consider setting three simple daily goals that ultimately lead to your one big intention, whether it’s feeling more at ease, connecting with loved ones, or completing a work project.
Benjamin Franklin He also kept it simple, asking himself a question at the beginning and end of the day: ‘What good will I do this day? in the morning and ‘What good have I done today? Before going to bed.
Navigate group settings and alleviate social anxiety in the “real world”
I have always had a very high threshold for emotional management. I can rack up a whole ton of human interaction and production to the point where my energy is completely depleted. So my social anxiety doesn’t seem like awkwardness or discomfort. When I feel anxious, it is due to a torrent of empathy, giving of space and self-sacrifice. Add pandemic fatigue and a post-vaccination lifestyle to the mix and imagine what that looks like (totally overwhelming).
I made the mistake of allowing myself to reach that threshold so many times that I finally learned to moderate my social abilities. My therapist taught me the tactic last summer. She told me to ask myself two questions:
I need to do it? Why?
I want to do it? Why?
My answers would determine my decision. Since then it has become one of the best measures I have developed for social limits.
We are all built differently, but generally we long for a strong social life and a healthy sense of togetherness. After the most isolated experience of our lives, returning to a new normal comes with the need for collective care. Priya Parker says it perfectly,
“In conflict resolution, there is a term we use to name the moment when a group has gone through a transformative experience and needs to prepare to return to the world: re-entry. Reentry is the process of helping a group reflect on an experience, make sense of it, and integrate it so they can choose what to take with them to shape their future worlds. “
So, I would love to know. What do you bring with you to shape the future of our world?