For most of 2020, we’ve all been dealing with stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are tired of staying home, tired of wearing masks, tired of news of more cases and more deaths. This ongoing stress has led to a widespread emotional exhaustion that has been called “COVID fatigue." COVID fatigue is real, but it’s important to continue to follow health guidelines.
As we enter into the coldest months of the year and another surge in COVID-19 cases, we can’t afford to let our guard down and become careless about taking precautions: washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.
One helpful way to fight COVID fatigue is to practice coping skills. Here are some tips for staying mentally and physically healthy as we wait out the pandemic:
Practice constructive thinking: When we can’t change the situation, we can adjust our thinking. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Remind yourself, “I’m doing the best I can.” Focus on controlling what you can control and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.
Exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to release the energy that builds up from stress and worry. Take a walk through the park or your neighborhood. Do floor exercises to a YouTube video. Play with your kids outside. Even taking longer routes through stores or parking farther from your destination makes a difference.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is cultivating an awareness of the present moment. It can be as simple as stopping and focusing on the task at hand, or on the natural world around you, or on your own breathing. Redirecting your focus to the now helps dispel anxiety about the future. Rather than projecting into the future or ruminating about the past, for now, just take life day by day.
Express yourself: By sharing how we’re feeling—whether through talking with a trusted friend, writing in a journal, or playing a musical instrument—we release the worry and stress that we’ve been holding in before it builds up to a traumatic level.
Watch what you’re watching: Although staying informed is important, inundating yourself with information can add to COVID fatigue. Consider limiting yourself to a few trustworthy news sources, as well as limiting the time you spend each day listening to news. Be especially mindful of social media, and don’t get caught up in arguing online.
Stay physically distant, not socially distant: The term “social distancing” is unfortunate because we need to stay connected socially, but distance physically. Use technology to stay in touch with friends and family. Even though it may not be a substitute for the real thing, it’s more important than ever that we stay socially connected.
Finally, it helps to remember that we have the ability to get back to all those things we’re missing—going out, visiting family and friends, eating in restaurants, and traveling—by following the health guidelines that will lead to the eventual end of the pandemic.
Candace Good, MD, is a behavioral health provider with Mount Nittany Health.