By Maria Lebron, June 2020
At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, people were very vigilant about taking precautions not to get infected or to infect others. Fear and self-preservation motivated us to strictly follow safety precautions. However, now with months into the social distancing and stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, many are finding themselves emotionally and physically drained and suffering from quarantine fatigue. As a result, many people feel the dire threat is over and are becoming more relaxed about following safety precautions.
Quarantine fatigue may cause people to not wear masks or wear a mask less, to not disinfect their hands as often, to be more open to unnecessary trips outdoors, to not practice social distancing, and to socialize with others without knowing if those people have been following safety measures. In many states where infections and deaths are still climbing, people seem eager to return to how things were before the pandemic with little concern for the growing number of infections and little desire to follow safety precautions.
Why Are We Experiencing Quarantine Fatigue?
When the government and states finally acknowledged that there was a COVID-19 crisis and stay-at-home orders were issued in order to try to stop the spread of the virus, everyone was concerned and focused on staying safe and alive. Since the pandemic is still spreading without an definite end in sight, what’s changed?
— Our Fear Is Subsiding: Initially, people were willing to make dire changes to their lives in order to reduce infections. Although these extreme measures may have been inconvenient, people were willing to make these sacrifices because they believed it would result in getting the pandemic under control so that normal life could resume.
Months into this pandemic, that immediate terror and sense of urgency is beginning to subside. Although COVID-19 is still very much a threat, people will naturally begin to not feel the fear as intensely. With the sense of urgency and fear waning, people may feel a growing restlessness living with the same limitations in their lifestyle that were made during the height of the crisis.
— We Miss Human Connection: Humans are social creatures and we crave and need human connection. If a few weeks or months of social distancing felt manageable in order to achieve a desired goal, continued long-term separation from actual human contact won’t be easy to tolerate or sustain.
— We Are Tired of Our Quarantine World: For those people privileged enough to work from home, they may now grow tired of the idea that all aspects of their lives is spent within the walls of their homes. Homes have felt more claustrophobic as they have become our offices, our social world, our dining experience, our entertainment, etc.
For those people who have lost their jobs or who are in dire financial circumstances, the need to earn a living takes precedent over health concerns. People need to feel that they can survive financially before they can worry about an external health threat.
— We Are More Comfortable With Taking Risks: It is extremely difficult for people to stay in crisis mode and maintain a state of anxiety. As the pandemic continues indefinitely, we become more comfortable accepting the risk of living with COVID-19. This may mean that we become less alarmed with the growing number of infections and the increasing amount of deaths.
— We Have Not Personally Been Impacted: For those people who have not known anyone who has experienced a severe infection, hospitalization, or death, it is easier to think of this as an external threat that won’t impact their lives.
— There Is No Unified Action Plan: The government seems to have decided it will ignore facts and has declared the pandemic over. This leaves states dealing with the pandemic on their own. There is no unified course of action, and in some states there isn’t even an agreement between the mayors and governors on how to handle the pandemic. A lack of direction and unified plan can cause people to feel that their sacrifices haven’t led to a favorable outcome and a light at the end of the tunnel. It can cause each person to make decisions on what is best for them, which may differ from how their neighbors or community are handling the pandemic.
How Can We Best Cope With Quarantine Fatigue?
For some people, this pandemic has taken a toll on their financial, mental, or physical well-being. Although we are not anywhere near being able to return to life as it was before the pandemic, we are all experiencing quarantine fatigue in some way or another. Here are some ways to cope:
— Maintain as Much of a Routine As Possible: creating a routine is important when things are uncertain, especially at times when you may feel you don’t have control over other aspects of your life.
— Spend Some Time Outdoors if Possible: Now that summer is here, your home will feel even more claustrophobic if you don’t get out a little bit to enjoy the sunshine while practicing social distancing and wearing a mask.
— Accept Your New Baseline: Most people feel that they are unable to be as productive as they were before the pandemic. Be aware that your new baseline during this time may mean that you will need to accept that you will not be as productive as you normally were. Accept that you will have some good days and some bad days and that life will feel different.
— Set Manageable Goals: At the onset of the stay-at-home orders, many people felt that it would be a good time to do all those things that they had no time to do before. People had hoped to learn a new language, write a novel, etc., but as it became clear that this wasn’t a short-term state, it became harder to think of this as a productive break. Set small, manageable goals that will create an immediate sense of accomplishment, such as cleaning out a closet, organizing your desk, trying a new recipe, etc.
— Treat Yourself: Try to give yourself a small treat each week where you can do something nice for yourself so you don’t feel deprived of things that make you feel good.
— Socialize: Isolation can severely damage psychological well-being. If you are able to socialize safely, do so and take precautions. Many of the traditional ways to socialize have moved online. Do some research to see if there are any groups or organizations which appeal to you.
— Stay Informed: Select one or two news sources you trust to provide you with accurate and up-to-date information on the pandemic so that you can take the necessary precautions and make informed decisions.
— Practice Self Care: If you are experiencing anxiety or sadness, try doing something which may help you to feel better. Consider taking up journaling, meditation, art, yoga, or any other activity which can help you calm your mind or move your body. If you need professional help, most therapists offer teletherapy, which can help you work on issues now instead of waiting for in-office sessions. Also, the same holds true for medical doctors. Try not to hold off on any medical treatment you need attended to.
Most public-health experts agree that a premature return to the old version of normalcy would be disastrous. A vaccine is months or even years away. New cases continue to rise, with thousands of people dying each day. Staying home indefinitely or returning to business as usual are not viable choices. Instead, we need to find ways to safely live with COVID-19 until there is a vaccine or a cure. Public-health experts have given us some guidelines for lower-risk activities to protect ourselves and others. We need to change our mindset to consider the risk and reward of our behavior so that we can take some control and determine what steps we can take to safely go about our lives.