COVID-19 Has Left Many Of Us Tired And Irritable. What Can We Do About It?

Sep 22, 2020

Nearly seven months of coping with lives upended by the COVID-19 pandemic have left many people on edge.

WCBU's Tim Shelley recently spoke with Cody Maddock, a community-based therapy supervisor for UnityPlace, about the roots of that fatigue and how people can better deal with it.

Tim Shelley: I'm trying to kind of give an overview of what COVID fatigue is; it seems like to me after several months of being in this pandemic, and really no end in sight, that's it's really hard on people to keep up the vigilance and keep up a lot of the measures we've been hearing over and over again--the hand washing the mask wearing. And then also, just sustaining that for a period of time comes with kind of an emotional or mental toll. So that's really kind of what I'm trying to break down here. I don't know if you have a good overview or take on that.

Cody Maddock: Yeah, I think you used a lot of good language. I think we are all feeling some COVID fatigue. Whether it's quarantining, staying at home, wearing masks, social distancing, we've been doing this for months now. And like you said, No, no end in sight right now.

And that being on alert for that long of a time period definitely comes with its stress, and it takes a toll. And whether it's with following those health guidelines, or maybe worrying about the possibility of contracting the virus or having a loved one, who may test positive or be at risk, due to other health conditions. That worry, that concern, the alarm is definitely gonna cause fatigue over time.

TS: So can we talk just a little bit about that? What's the fatigue feel like? We've talked a little bit about how it happens, but how does it impact people? And what can I do potentially, to stave it off  or deal with it?

CM: Yeah, I think people will find it'll impact them in different ways. Very much like stress. I think many has experienced prolonged periods of stress in their life before, hopefully not as long as this pandemic has been.

But fatigue, as in tiredness and literal fatigue would definitely be a common part of COVID. Fatigue could be increased anxiety, perhaps irritability. Over time, you know, chronic stress might impact how we are interacting with others, and we might rise and rise in anger, like I said, of irritability that might impact relationships, difficulty sleeping, could all be part of this fatigue that we're experiencing.

And that kind of brings it back to ways to combat COVID fatigue. [It] is general and good coping skills for stress, such as exercise and social connection. I think that the connection piece is really important. I think a lot of us are socially plugged in. But lately, maybe that connection has waned a little bit. So, focusing on more meaningful connections with people rather than checking someone's Facebook, reach out to them, and then have a conversation, see how they're doing. Let them know how you're doing. Making sure that we are forming those bonds, and keeping up with them, that's going to be good for our mental health, as well.

TS: Why is it so important to maybe reach out to somebody to talk to them on the phone, or--I know, our ability to get together, especially in larger groups is really limited right now. But why is it so important to try to form you know, that type of connection rather than just send somebody a text, or send them a Facebook message?

CM: I think with with Facebook, messaging with texting, Twitter, Snapchat on and on all those, they're great ways to kind of stay in touch and be aware of other people's lives what they have going on, but we missed that deeper connection. And we may know that, you know, a friend of ours, went on a trip or maybe is having a rough time, but we don't know how that's impacting them in detail, or how we can help and reaching out and getting that personal connection just helps us process all of the things that we're going through when we look on social media, other negative news about the virus and about other things going on lately.

But we don't often get a chance to really process that information and talk to someone else. You're able to explore your thoughts a little more [if you do]. And, also change the topic easier. I think when you scroll through social media, especially if you're looking for COVID-related information, you're going to find it, you're going to find a lot of it. And it can be easy to fall into a hole with that. And if you're reaching out and talking to somebody, you get a better depth of information. And through that you form a better connection--more meaningful, and more soothing for the COVID fatigue.

TS: And I just wanted to return to something you had talked about a little bit earlier, you talked about people actually feeling physically fatigued, feeling tired, being irritable more easily. It seems like based off of conversations I've had, people I've talked to about how they're feeling, that seems very common right now. A lot of people are having a hard time. So how do I begin to deal with that, those interpersonal connections that might become frayed by just the the overall stress and tension right now?

CM: Yeah, I mean, I agree, I think we're all seeing that in and people know. And, like, we know, it's not just COVID right now, there's natural disasters. There's protests and a lot of strong feelings about everything that's going on.

And one thing that I think can be helpful is taking a step back and reminding ourselves this is an a stressful time for all of us, and sometimes in different ways. But if we are noticing that, that we're feeling more irritable, and maybe someone we're talking to, we're noticing that they aren't quite themselves, or some more angry conversation than was intended, taking that step back and saying, 'Well, this, this has been a very stressful year, it's possible that, you know, this irritability or anger that we're seeing is an expression of just all of the stress and being compassionate to each other.'

It's OK to feel irritable, that's part of this fatigue, the stress. And it gets the better of us all sometimes. And being able to step back and acknowledge that can be very helpful.

In terms of helping to control our own irritability, I think it's really important to pay attention to the way we think about the way we talk to ourselves. If we promote thoughts that are negative, or cause us stress or anger, then that's how we're going to feel. And so maybe if you notice, you're walking into a store and put on a mask, and you'd become angry, because you're putting on the mask, you can ask yourself, you know, what do you tell yourself about the mask, about putting it on? And is there another way that you might phrase that if it was at ... more positive, so maybe, well, I'll get in and out and I'll only have to wear the mask for a few minutes. Or, I'm wearing this mask to keep myself safe to keep others safe. And I'll be able to take it off when I leave the store. So trying to frame that a little more positive-looking forward. And changing that narrative in your thoughts a little bit can really help with that irritability.

TS: Optimism in general. I mean, just shifting more to a more general positive perspective. I mean, how important is it right now in terms of overall mental health--keeping a healthy mindset to find some kind of silver lining?

CM: Yeah, I think that's vital right now, I think, you know, we have been affected by COVID for the better part of this year, and will continue to be I think finding those silver linings, finding a more optimistic way to process this information is going to be really important to combat COVID fatigue and and sometimes that can be difficult caught with all the information that's been coming out.

And as we're realizing more and more of this isn't as temporary as we thought it would be back in February and March. And this is sticking around for a little while. But it's really important that we come together, that we learn ways to think more positively, and adjust and accept our situation, and help each other work through it.

TS: Cody, anything else that you would you would want the listening audience to know about taking care of themselves right now?

CM: Yeah, I think the other thing that came to mind as we were talking ... was, what I'm hearing a lot of in the clients that we work with at UnityPlace is routines have either changed or just gone away. I think routine is something that really helps with I mentioned sleep earlier, like the more of a healthy routine we have, we're going to sleep. Eating habits, exercise habits, social habits. The better we get into a rhythm, the more that stress is going to be released and the more other things are going to fall in line with that. So that was another thought I wanted to share with listeners and with yourself.

And, also, there are services out there if you are struggling with COVID fatigue. And COVID fatigue can certainly interact with existing mental illness and may exacerbate symptoms. So if you're noticing increased difficulties because of that fatigue, there is help out there. We have counselors, therapists and a whole spectrum of care. You can access help for those symptoms.

TS: Absolutely, Cody. And we'll be sure to mention those resources in our story. I appreciate your time this afternoon and look forward to sharing it with our audience.

CM: OK, thank you very much.

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