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Pandemic Fatigue -- Yes, It Is Real!

Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN

Disclosures

July 23, 2021

After nearly 18 months of dealing with SARS-CoV-2 and the dangers of the pandemic, many Americans are exhausted. How tired, you ask?

A recent NBC News report stated that up to 95% of US workers are considering quitting their job or possibly changing careers. A year of unrelenting stress has left us distressed and unhappy. The toll has been widespread. According to a CBS News Report, gun violence claimed more than 180 lives over the July 4th weekend and mass shootings have totaled more than 230 for the calendar year. (A mass killing is defined as four or more victims killed, not including the shooter.)

But the toll has not been merely violence. According to the American Association for Cancer Research and oncology experts, breast health exams and Pap screenings are way down compared with pre-pandemic levels. People have stopped taking care of themselves. The fatigue and disinterest are real. Pandemic fatigue has set in, and Americans are suffering.

What Is Pandemic Fatigue?

Pandemic fatigue is defined by mental health experts as a societal distress, but it is more than that. Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, "People are tired of making drastic changes to their everyday lives" — especially as news of more frightening variants (Delta, Delta Plus, and Lambda) claims media attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the pandemic hit, people hunkered down and focused on the number-one priority of keeping the family unit safe. But those very same behaviors, the ones that kept many of us protected, are the same ones that reinforce pandemic fatigue.

Worklife expert Steven Taylor, professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and author of The Psychology of Pandemics, indicates that focusing on aspects of pandemic life (eg, things we cannot do) is exactly what reinforces the actions of pandemic fatigue. Humans are social beings; we need contact with other humans to feel self-actualized. We need to look forward to and focus on activities that we can return to, such as family gatherings and, perhaps more important, family visitation and an easing of strict hospital visitation policies. Throughout the pandemic, family members were isolated; horrifically, many died alone. We need to realize that this heartbreak was experienced firsthand by nurses and providers, and the stress has taken a toll. We need to look forward, not back.

My Own Experience With Fatigue

I experienced my own personal meltdown about 2 months after receiving my second coronavirus vaccine. I was considered "fully vaccinated" according to CDC guidelines, and I was eager to see friends. However, I had not processed my emotions. Every stressor I experienced during the pandemic was bottled up inside, waiting to explode during the first heartfelt hug, and explode it did. A shower of unexpected sobbing surprised everyone, myself most of all. Where was this meltdown hiding? Was this to be expected, and could it have been predicted?

What Alleviates Pandemic Fatigue?

Regaining pre-pandemic family structure would help tremendously. The first step? Returning children to school. As conditions improve, returning children to formal education would diminish stress for significant portions of society. Although the course in this country has improved, the price for women has been a collective burden that needs to ease. Women need the ability to focus on the future and to provide care for themselves.

If you are feeling exhausted and/or experiencing pandemic fatigue as a caregiver, recognition is pivotal. Burnout is common, but companies may not recognize that employees need support. According to NBC News, meeting times in the US have increased by 10 minutes since pre-pandemic levels. Longer hours and tighter productivity are expected, including time required during "off hours." Mental, physical, and emotional well-being may suffer. If you recognize feelings of being compressed tighter than ever, seek help.

The following options are available for workers (or family members) in distress:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273 TALK (1-800-273-8255)

  • The Online Crisis Chat (free and confidential): text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 crisis counseling

  • If employed, check for employee assistance programs through employer benefits, where meetings are kept private from managers/directors.

Above all, focus on what we have gained throughout the previous year. If fully vaccinated, begin to see friends/family outside the immediate social circle. Concentrate on planning activities that look ahead, not backward. And share what you feel.

Pandemic fatigue is real, and we are experiencing difficult times. Do not try to "tough it out" alone. Share what you are feeling, experiencing, or thoughts you are keeping inside before those emotions become a crisis, as mine did. Seek help, find assistance.

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About Diane M. Goodman
Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN, is a semi-retired nurse practitioner who works from home contributing to COVID-19 task force teams and dismantling vaccine disinformation, as well as publishing in various nursing venues. During decades at the bedside, Diane worked in both private practice and critical care, carrying up to five nursing certifications simultaneously. Yet she is not all about nursing. She is equally passionate about her dogs and watching movies, enjoying both during time away from professional activities. Her tiny chihuahuas are contest winners, proving that both Momma and the dogs are busy, productive girls!

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