If you’re finding it hard to keep up with COVID precautions, you might be feeling ‘COVID fatigue’. If so, you’re not alone. After nearly ten months of hand washing, staying home, avoiding family/friends and even disinfecting around our house, who can blame you. I know I have let things slip. After months of daily disinfecting major touch points in my house, from doorknobs to cell phones, I do it a lot less now.

The notion of COVID fatigue isn’t new. Back in June, people were reporting fatigue with following COVID precautions, restrictions or even being reminded about the pandemic every day. And as time has gone on, it’s likely increased.

COVID fatigue is also being blamed for the recent rise in cases in many areas. While cases were expected to rise as businesses and schools opened, the recent surge has been more than expected. And while we’d all love to get back to a pre-pandemic normal, the coronavirus is still with us. At present, no one knows for how much longer. We don’t know when a vaccine will be ready, and when that does happen, how effective it will be.

But experiencing COVID fatigue doesn’t mean people don’t care. Or aren’t concerned. Most people see the pandemic as the biggest immediate threat to society. In May, over 80% of Americans supported widespread public health measures. And a recent survey found 83% of Canadians and 68% of Americans believe governments should make masks mandatory in indoor public spaces.

Changing Behaviours isn’t Easy

For most people, COVID fatigue is a reflection of how challenging behaviour change is. No different from quitting smoking, beginning an exercise routine or dieting to lose weight. In the beginning it’s easy to make lifestyle changes. Even a number of drastic ones can be sustained over the short term. But over the long-term it can be hard. And the more new behaviours you undertake the harder it can be.

A key part of behaviour change is having a goal identified. Goals provide direction and motivation for starting any new behaviour. When it comes to COVID, the goal is to protect yourself and others. This is a pretty good goal, but it’s hard to see the direct benefit. If it works, unlike exercising, or quitting smoking, in which you see the benefits immediately, with COVID precautions, it’s hard to link them with staying healthy. Likewise, if you, or someone close to you, gets sick, it doesn’t mean you failed.

Avoidance is a Short-term Solution

For others, it can be the minimization of risk. Many of us don’t know anyone who has had COVID, let alone had complications or died from it. Which again, can make it hard to see the benefits of our actions. And even though cases have gone up, death rates are going down as better treatments are identified. But the risk is still there. And while deaths are commonly talked about, new research is beginning to highlight ongoing physical fatigue, trouble thinking (brain fog) and heart problems long after the initial infection has passed. What’s been referred to as post-COVID syndrome, can occur even in people with mild symptoms.

In some cases, the continual practice of COVID precautions is an ongoing reminder of the pandemic. That, plus the constant barrage of news articles, case and death numbers, and hearing the same messages over and over. People can be tired of lining up all the time. Or tired of being scared to enjoy activities they used to. This is similar to patients who stop taking their medications or refuse treatment because they don’t want their medical issues to define who they are. Likewise, a lot of us don’t want the pandemic to define our lives. This denial or avoidance can be a short-term coping mechanism but in the long-term it can lead to more challenges down the road.

Public Health: A Balance of Risks

Lastly, there’s been a lot of confusion around what works and what doesn’t. Recommendations have flip-flopped and what wasn’t important before, is now. At it’s best, public health is about balancing between opposing risks. Add to that the fact no one had any prior expertise with this particular virus and things become far from easy. We won’t immediately know if the benefits of a lockdown outweigh the potential economic losses or increase in mental health conditions.

As a result, experts, and government leaders, can differ in their approaches. We can see that across different countries, states and provinces. Each one having their own amount of successes or challenges. While we may wish to be like Denmark when it comes to how school openings are handled, comparing across regions for such a complex situation isn’t straightforward.

Tips to Address COVID Fatigue

If you, or some close to you, is experiencing COVID fatigue, there are a number of things you can do. Much of these are similar to managing anxiety as the two are closely related.

  • Be physically active: Exercise is a great coping mechanism in which the impacts on your mood and outlook are usually immediate.
  • Talk to others: Discussing how you feel and the challenges you are having can be therapeutic and often you find out what you’re experiencing is common. Even talking out loud to yourself can help.
  • Think differently: This may be easier said than done, but realize there are some things you can’t control. Instead focus on the things you can and recognize that we’re in an ever-changing world, which may be quite different three months from now.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: This allows you to be in the present moment, and not worry about the future or fretting over the past. It can be done at anytime and anywhere, and the more you practice, the better you get.
  • Give yourself a COVID break: Limit how and when you read about COVID and your time on social media. Also avoid getting into online arguments with people who have different views. It’s unlikely to change their minds and may just make you angry.
  • Turn COVID precautions into a habit: Write down your commitment to these new behaviours and what they mean to you. Set up cues in your home to remind you and turn those behaviours into a habit.

While the pandemic may be a challenge for some time, as Dr. Fauci has said, “We will get out of this and we will return to normal. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. Don’t throw caution to the wind. We can end this.”

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