Pandemic fatigue: Why you're feeling worn out

Woman at home office desk looking exhausted

Sleepy? Struggling to motivate? Wondering where all your energy has gone? Join the club.

According to the Mental Health Commission pandemic fatigue is real, absolutely understandable and being experienced by many Australians right now.

In non-COVID-19 times we would have referred to pandemic fatigue as burnout, the feeling of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

Pandemic fatigue is the term now being attributed to feelings of lethargy, despair and uncertainty uniquely linked to the stress caused by ongoing lockdown, financial strain and the fear of illness.

It’s hard to be brave in the new world

Most people have never experienced the complex combination of unknowns associated with the global impact of COVID-19 and the strange new world it has forced upon us.

There are many reasons for the widespread malaise we’re experiencing, including:

  • Sadness at the loss of previous freedoms
  • Being cooped up inside
  • Having to homeschool children while working
  • Social isolation and missing family and friends overseas
  • Lack of personal control
  • A decline in confidence in government and public health messaging
  • Worries about the health of family and loved ones
  • Feeling uncertain about work and finances.

People experience pandemic fatigue differently but some of the common feelings and behaviours include low energy, tiredness, frustration, hopelessness, irritability, dread, increased use of alcohol or drugs, lack of enthusiasm and joy and social withdrawal.

One of the most worrying and unhelpful consequences of pandemic fatigue is a reduction in people’s adherence to the public health measures put in place to protect us. 

No matter how exhausted you feel, it’s important to continue social distancing, wearing a mask and following the instructions currently in effect in your area. 

Facing your fatigue

After the exhaustion of living through the global COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, it is overwhelming to think that, more than a full year later, many of us are ‘right back where we started.’

Feelings of frustration and futility are unavoidable and undoubtedly feeding the pandemic fatigue.

So, what can we do? Well, we can take small steps every day to take care of ourselves and the people we love.

The list below includes some reminders: 

  • Identify and practice the self-care rituals that work best for you, regularly and as a priority.
  • If you have children talk to them openly and honestly. Explain that it is ok to feel worried, sad and lonely and provide an open forum for conversation.
  • Create and stick to a schedule. Humans thrive on routine, this may be especially helpful if you have children at home with you.
  • Acknowledge and accept all of your feelings and reactions to these extraordinary circumstances. All of them are valid.
  • Be kind to yourself and accept that you may be less focused, less productive and less motivated - don’t worry the rest of us are in the same boat.
  • Keep moving. Exercise is great for mental health. Take a walk outside every day, do an online exercise class, spend more time in your garden, play frisbee with your children. Every little bit counts!
  • Keep connecting with people. Phone calls, video calls, messaging, talking over the back fence to a neighbour, whatever works best. It’s easy to become isolated during challenging times and reaching out is a good way of sharing the experience and maintaining perspective.
  • Use evidence-based sources of information when researching COVID-19 and current restrictions. Avoid spending too much time on social media platforms.
  • Take advantage of extra time at home to tick things of your ‘To Do’ list’ - this will enhance feelings of agency and productivity.
  • Eat well, sleep well and drink plenty of water. Maintaining healthy habits will make you stronger and more able to deal with external stressors.
  • Structure downtime into your schedule and spend it doing something you enjoy and find relaxing and meaningful.
  • Take control where you can. Make your appointment to be vaccinated!

Finally, seek additional help if you need it.

Programs such as Westfund’s Comprehensive Mental Health Support assist eligible members to access mental health coaching.

Westfund partners with Valion Health, a virtual care provider, to provide this support to members.