Claire Hynes (email@example.com)
Feeling unable to get a handle on your stress recently? Find yourself struggling with a “normal” workload that now seems too much? You are not alone. For the past 18 months, we have been thrust into a state of stress that no one was initially prepared for, and no one could have expected the toll it would take. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, regardless of whether or not they have actually contracted the virus. This immense toll the virus takes on our mental wellbeing is referred to by doctors and therapists as “COVID-fatigue.”
“COVID-fatigue” can manifest from many different sources. It can be defined as the tiredness one feels from restrictions that seem like they are never letting up. It is the exhaustion from this “new normal” and the burnout from trying to fit pre-Covid expectations into a world no longer operating the same way. Our own staff psychologist and Director of Counseling and Wellness, Dr. Lauren Finnegan, describes these feelings of fatigue as the result of “both intense and prolonged stress” that we have been forced to live under for the continuing duration of this pandemic; a kind of stress that “can have long-term effects on our overall well-being.” These feelings come from an ongoing daily battle with the virus that, unlike many other stressors that cause fatigue, we have not been given a break from. This lack of reprieve has taken a toll on an aspect of our health that many people choose to ignore: our mental health. It is this neglect of our mental well-being during an event like a pandemic that in turn left people unprepared for this silent stressor, leaving people feeling helpless in a situation out of their control.
Finnegan provides three helpful suggestions to assess how we are feeling at this time and what actions we can take to ensure our best mental well-being. The first step in rebuilding our resiliency is to “[recognize] that our resources may be a bit more depleted than they usually are, which then requires additional, and intentional, actions to recalibrate.” A way to do this would be practicing healthy living routines as well as focusing on self-care and really allowing for time to focus on ourselves. Now is a time to practice self-compassion, gratitude, and constructive thinking as not everyone has been able to perform in the same capacity they may have pre-COVID. We need to be kind not only to others but also to ourselves.
The next step is to realize that there are going to be many things that are out of our control, and “focus on the areas where we can make proactive, safe, and community-focused decisions.” This allows for people to regain a sense of agency that this pandemic has taken from us. Focusing on the things we can control helps to avoid spirals and overthinking about larger issues out of our immediate control.
Lastly, Finnegan suggests that after considering the previous two suggestions but still finding yourself struggling, “the best thing to do is seek help.” For many, admitting that they need help is just as hard as dealing with the feelings themselves. Remember that you are not alone in being affected by this pandemic. The stress that you may be feeling is not only a completely understandable response but one that is shared by your peers. The Wellness Center is able to provide an effective outlet for these feelings with both one-on-one and group therapy options. For some, the best way to alleviate stress is to have a discussion about what stressors are currently manifesting in your daily life. Talking it out with another person, especially a member of the Wellness staff, is a great resource to have and utilize.
This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Know it is OK to admit you need some extra help and time transitioning. Take some time for yourself to focus on self-care and utilize the resources you have around you in order to create an effective outlet for these feelings of fatigue and mend your mental well-being.