The pandemic and subsequent economic recession over the past couple of years have created an environment that makes people feel lonely, even though most have returned to full engagement with the public. Both the fear of disease and the rising price of basic necessities have led people to stay at home rather than connect with friends and family.
Those who are already prone to depression or recovering from addiction are at greater risk of engaging in risky behavior or contemplating suicide under these conditions. Lack of personal interaction and physical touch aggravate the effects, making difficult circumstances seem impossible. Limited access to mental health care and the stigma surrounding seeking help make it more important than ever to be vigilant about maintaining mental well-being.
Pandemic fatigue is the term used to describe this mental health problem, which affects a staggering number of people. The World Health Organization defines it as a natural response to a protracted public health crisis with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of all, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself. Their report also cites a demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviors.
Pre-Covid, 11% of the population reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. At the height of the pandemic, that number jumped to 40%. As of June this year, mental health professionals estimate 33% are still in pain. Other areas with higher demand include obsessive-compulsive and sleep-wake disorders, as well as substance abuse problems.
According to psychiatrist Jessica A. Gold, continuous fatigue is a typical reaction to prolonged stress. In the world of psychology, general adaptation syndrome is described as the point beyond a body’s natural tendency to struggle or flee during a crisis. Guilt for not doing more or feeling normal is common and leads to further distress.
Frontline workers, mental health professionals, and parents have lived in survival mode for so long that there hasn’t been enough time to address mental well-being. Unprocessed pain and trauma have led to extreme anxiety and depression in many adults, creating even more fatigue.
Over time, this results in feelings of uncertainty about the future, difficulty concentrating, and inexplicable anger over relatively small things.
In an article on the topic of post-pandemic fatigue, Dr. Asim Shah identifies the three dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, greater mental distance, and feeling negative or cynical.
Recommend several ways to combat burnout and stress. Exercise and adequate sleep, learning to express emotions, and taking time to explore nature are at the top of Shah’s list. Maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in activities with others, and doing things that bring joy are also on the list of guidelines.
While many are still trying to make up for lost time and connection with loved ones, setting boundaries and limiting social interaction to allow time for decompression and more rest can be very beneficial. Limiting social media and network news can help reduce information overload and negative thinking. Reading books and other relaxing hobbies such as drawing, painting, weaving, and crochet can help reduce stress and create a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Practicing gratitude is also widely prescribed to maintain a positive outlook.
Whenever disappointment occurs, simply writing one thing to be thankful for can help redirect attention to the positive. Taking time to evaluate physical and emotional sensations is part of the recommended arsenal for maintaining a sense of well-being. Acting on hunger and the need for sleep and peace of mind is a practice that should be cultivated rather than ignored.
Talking to friends or family who offer good advice or bring a sense of calm is extremely important, especially for those who are prone to isolation. Checking in on a regular basis can help identify if the problems are trivial and have a practical solution or something that needs to be addressed through professional help.
The right music can also be highly therapeutic. According to the American Psychological Association, new studies have found that music can boost immune function and reduce stress levels. Singing, playing musical instruments and writing songs have become documented pathways to improve mental health and even reduce physical pain in patients with terminal illness and those suffering from neurological disorders.
Classical music has been shown to lower blood pressure and raise serotonin levels, but mostly for those who really love the genre. Music that makes you feel good is what works. Certain frequencies, from Delta and Theta to Beta and Gamma, can produce positive reactions in the body, ranging from deep relaxation to concentration and clarity. Sound healing through the use of Tibetan bells, tuning forks or gongs can create vibrations that have a strong effect on the mind and body. Vibrations can help align the two to work better together.
Binaural beats are the combination of two different frequencies that the brain perceives as a single tone. As the brain adjusts to the tone, it is possible to achieve a state of mind that promotes feelings of relaxation, creativity, focus and clarity. Due to its potentially profound effects, adults with heart problems or epilepsy are advised to use caution and consult their physician before using binaural beats as therapy.
To learn more about how music affects the body, Dr. Richard Gerber’s book “Vibrational Medicine” explains how musical frequencies can be used to balance physical and emotional energy in those suffering from anxiety and depression. For those unfamiliar with specific frequency music, look for 432Hz, 528Hz and 852Hz on Youtube or Spotify.
For those who prefer more directional advice, “Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle” from Brenee Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” with Amelia and Emily Nagoski is a discussion of what causes burnout and how to overcome emotional exhaustion. Find it on breneebrown.com or Spotify. For more podcasts on dealing with mental health issues, find the 16 best mental health podcasts at www.womenshealthmag.com/.