COVID Fatigue: The Devastating Effects of This “Secondary Infection” on Humans

Dawn Bevier

For almost a year now, we’ve seen our lives completely uprooted.

At the beginning of this pandemic, we lived frozen in fear and anxiety. Do you remember running straight to the toilet paper aisle in your local grocery store? Remember scarfing up rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer like it was life’s most precious commodity? Some of us literally thought the world was ending.

A month later, after the initial panic lessened, our mindset changed. We were locked away, safe in our cocoons of quarantine. We had enough goods to feel relatively comfortable, and because we didn’t have a reason to venture out into a world that now resembled an episode of The Walking Dead, some of us even looked on the bright side. We were a bit like children who get a snow day away from school, and another the next day, and another one after that. We began to see quarantine as a chance to slow down, to spend time with our immediate family, and even work on personal goals such as working out.

It was darkly “cool” to be able to take a break from the “old world,” mainly because we believed in a couple of months the virus would go away.

But those months passed, and our feelings of “snow day fun” went with it. It was April or May, and even then, we comforted ourselves with the thought that surely the world would return to normal by summer.

But then summer came. And passed. The beach weekends we imagined never become a reality. The cruises we booked a year back had to be canceled, and even small summer outings we planned for our children during their school breaks, such as trips to the movies, the zoo, or the ice cream shop, melted away in the fever of COVID.

My own sense of hopelessness emerged when I had to attend my son’s graduation in what was termed a “drive-thru” ceremony.

And here we are. It’s the beginning of November, and we’re drowning in despair and depression. We’ve been swimming in the deep side of the pool for almost nine months, and we don’t know how much longer we can keep our heads above water.

We’re out of hope, we’re out of steam, and we’re angry. And this emotional state has even been given a name by mental health experts.

COVID Fatigue.

And no one is immune. Even former first lady Michelle Obama stated that she was “dealing with some form of low-grade depression.”

Symptoms of COVID Fatigue

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center reports some of the symptoms of COVID fatigue as the following:

  • changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or a tendency to sleep too much
  • a “hollowness” that may be accompanied by extreme feelings of depression or despondency
  • a growing sense of anger or exasperation
  • a constant state of agitation or unease
  • a burgeoning withdrawal from close friends and family
  • a shift in eating patterns, leading to either weight gain or weight loss

Dangerous coping mechanisms

An article published on the CDC website explains that even as early as “June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” They go on to list what they call the “drivers of adverse mental and behavioral health during the COVID-19 pandemic,” listing factors such as “social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment, and other financial worries, and violence.”

And one can only assume that in the four months that have followed their report, the mental health dilemmas created by the pandemic have exponentially multiplied.

Dr. Roxane Cohen Silver, Professor of Psychological Science, Medicine, and Public Health at the University of California, provides additional reasons for increasing numbers of those suffering psychological distress. She states that “this is an invisible threat; we don’t know who is infected, and anybody could infect us. This is an ambiguous threat; we have no idea how bad this will get.” She also cites that “our typical sources of distractions such as national or personal sports or going to the gym, going to restaurants or bars, movies or travel, are all restricted by this crisis.”

No matter the precipitating circumstances, most people who suffer from pre-existing mental health disorders or new emotional distress brought on COVID Fatigue desperately want immediate relief from the feelings of sadness or anxiety directly related to the pandemic. And this desire for instant emotional relief has brought on a secondary epidemic of alcohol, opioid, and other substance abuse issues.

As the pandemic continues, more people have begun to turn to addictive substances. Those who never used harmful substances before have looked to alcohol and other drugs as a solution to ease their fragile emotional state, and those struggling with addiction have found their substance abuse worsening. What is perhaps more heartbreaking is many of those who have triumphed over alcohol and drug addiction have relapsed.

As a matter of fact, the public health organization Well Trust anticipates that “the pandemic may contribute to as many as 75,000 deaths related to drug or alcohol misuse and suicide in the U.S.”

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Initiative for Healing’s Institute on Drug Abuse, a section of NIDA, explains that the lack of social interaction resulting from quarantine and recommended distancing keep people from the support systems that can lessen substance abuse and allow for other healthy coping mechanisms to take place. She states these facts as the reason for the “tremendous concern about these two epidemics colliding with one another.”

Ways to lessen COVID Fatigue

An article from the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin offers tips on how COVID weary citizens can lessen the impact of the emotional angst of pandemic related situations.

  • Try to come to terms with the current situation and its limitations as best you can. Work towards a degree of acceptance that life will not immediately go back to normal and will continue to be full of physical, emotional, and financial challenges.
  • Embrace hobbies that are still able to be done and seek out new ways to be happy by exploring other activities that you have never tried.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Don’t hate yourself for not being able to be as productive and “together” as you were pre-pandemic. Your body and mind are trying to deal with long-term stressors that deplete your physical and emotional reserves, and this makes it highly unlikely that you will be able to perform at maximum capacity.
  • Engage in physical activities and meditative practices that will work to quiet your mind.
  • Avoid media platforms that evoke further feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety.

The bottom line:

A CDC article on coping with COVID-19 stress explains that “mental health is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It may also affect how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices during an emergency.”

This is why we must take measures to make sure we take proper care of ourselves and our loved ones to maintain some degree of resiliency in the face of a pandemic that has infected us as almost as much psychologically as physically. If we don’t, it may literally cost us our lives.

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Sanford, NC

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