Pandemic Fatigue: Why We’re Craving Normalcy at the Cost of Health
In just three more months, we’d be bidding goodbye to the fateful year that was 2020.
But before we jump on to celebrate, here’s a much-needed reminder. The coronavirus pandemic - the reason for everything wrong with the year - is here to stay. Worse yet, we don’t know for how long.
Quite honestly, there are many things we don’t know yet: When will we have a vaccine? Will that bring the outbreak to an end? Will we be able to step out without masks again? Or hug our friends? Will things ever be normal? Ever?
We don’t know, and naturally, we are frustrated, anxious, and terribly exhausted.
As a result, many of us are becoming more restless and less careful with following precautions than we were at the pandemic’s outset. At the risk of sounding obvious, here’s a reality check on why that’s so worrying - along with exactly what you need to remind yourself to keep going (or staying in, to be more accurate).
Prolonged Stress & Restlessness: When There Is No End in Sight
The virus is spreading at an unprecedented scale with every new day marking the highest-ever spike in cases. All this, in the backdrop of cities unlocking, metro services resuming, and bars and restaurants reopening.
Despite being aware of the worsening situation, people seem to have started stepping out for non-essential reasons. Casual trips to the mall, Sunday brunches, and manicure appointments are suddenly in the picture. What’s not in the picture - masks, distancing and sanitisers.
Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Gurugram, explains the reason for this shift from being too scared and alert a few months back, to being at the brink of carelessness and negligence today.
“The longevity of this entire process has created its own pressures and stresses. We usually have limited coping resources, and prolonged stress is likely to compromise on those, hampering an individual’s ability to get through these troubling times.”Kamna Chhibber
The rampant economic decline, financial setbacks, confinement and social isolation has completely overturned people’s lives. For these reasons and the heightened mental health issues, they are struggling to readjust and accommodate to the new reality.
“There is no sign of when they will be able to resume their old sense of normalcy. This is creating a very strong craving within everyone to try and go back to what is known and familiar. It brings them the comfort that they have been missing. In seeking that comfort, people may not realize when they start ignoring the gravity of the situation and compromise their own health and well-being along the way.”Kamna Chhibber
“At the same time, there is a lot of fatigue which is setting in, making it hard to put in the extra effort and stick to precautions.”
On the one hand, this frustration caused by the distressing circumstances pushes us to break the rules. On the other, not witnessing the illness manifest around us gives a false sense of confidence of being perennially safe from the virus. Chhibber says, “When you do not necessarily see the illness affect you or people you know prominently, somewhere, a belief sets in that maybe, this will not happen to me. That there are no real consequences of not wearing the mask.”
“For instance, you step out for the first time and do not experience a negative outcome of breaching protocol. Then you go out for the second time, and again, do not seem to be affected by the outbreak. This would just keep encouraging you to do this repeatedly without a worry. When nothing happens, the belief that you and your family members will be fine gets strengthened. This, I feel, is also contributing to the increased risk-taking among people, who may not be able to see any immediate or long-term impact on their own well-being or of those around them.”Kamna Chhibber
A Reality Check: Why We Need to Be as Vigilant as Ever
Speaking to FIT about the issue, Dr Om Shrivastav, Director Infectious Diseases at Jaslok Hospital, explains that doctors, healthcare workers, and other individuals working round the clock for the past few months are not immune to experiencing fatigue and exhaustion.
“The question of pandemic fatigue is a very relevant one because there isn’t a single category of people that has been spared. It is an unusual situation for all of us. We are not used to this kind of restriction or the new way of being in the hospital. This has gone on without a break for 5.5 months.”Dr Om Shrivastav
He stresses on the need to manage and treat it in the best possible fashion - whether it is by taking a break from work, or seeking psychological help, or even taking medication if necessary.
“It is not enough to say that you shouldn’t let your guard down. By all means, think about how you can let your guard down because COVID is not going anywhere. You need to have a mechanism to cope with this,” he says.
As a doctor handling patients affected by the disease, Dr Shrivastav urges us to not make the mistake of taking the safety measures lightly. “Not to follow the precautions that have helped until this time, is going to be a huge mistake. The public and private infrastructures are already overwhelmed and the number of patients seeking treatment is out of control. Complacency will only increase this number and add to the total burden of cases and mortality. There is no gentle way to put this. Everything will get affected if we don’t stick to the basics.”
But How Do We Do This?
“Set short-term goals. At this point, it is important to take it one day at a time,” Kamna Chhibber puts it simply.
On tips to help us stay committed, she suggests a change in the way we are approaching the situation, “Instead of getting stuck with thoughts of how long this will go on for, or what the potential timeline could be, remind yourself that what’s truly important is your safety. For that, just ensure that you keep moving from one day to the next in the safest way possible.”
“Each one of us needs to remember the kind of social responsibility that we have, because our health and wellbeing would also determine the health of of our loved ones. That can be a big motivating factor in not letting us make risky choices.”Kamna Chhibber
But at the same time, addressing the feeling of stress and fatigue setting in is also extremely important. For that, she says, we need to find ways to unwind, relax and stay connected to the people in our lives without exposing ourselves to the virus. “Acknowledge what you are going through and take mental breaks.”
In essence, we need to remember that while it’s true that life needs to go on, it is also true that the virus is still very much here, and this new normal would have to be accommodative of that. Masks need to be worn, distances need to be maintained, and those hugs have got to be kept on hold for a bit longer.
Here's a friendly reminder of how to wear that mask right!
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