Friday, October 23, 2020

Even as the pandemic becomes more dangerous, 'pandemic fatigue' makes some take risks; here are tips to cope with it

Photo illustration from Skagit County, Washington, Public Health
As coronavirus cases surge across the country with no end in sight, many of us are experiencing "pandemic fatigue" and are heading into the fall with "an odd mix of resignation and heedlessness," the New York Times reports. 

"In sharp contrast to the spring, the rituals of hope and unity that helped people endure the first surge of the virus have given way to exhaustion and frustration," Julie Bosman, Sarah Mervosh and Marc Santora write as they report on how this mindset has also settled across much of Europe.

“People are done putting hearts on their windows and teddy bears out for scavenger hunts,” said Katie Rosenberg, the mayor of Wausau, Wis., a city of 38,000 where a hospital has opened an extra unit to treat covid-19 patients. “They have had enough.”

Some of this shift in attitude can be attributed to improved medical treatments to treat the virus, which have reduced its mortality rate and severity, but much of it is the result of people just wanting to return to normal. 

Mark Harris, county executive for Winnebago County, Wisconsin, told the Times that he is frustrated by the "loud minority" in his county who are successfully pushing back on all public-health measures taken against the pandemic. They have a singular frame of mind, he said: “This has been inconveniencing me long enough and I’m done changing my behavior.”

Gov. Andy Beshear offered examples Wednesday of how such returns to normal activities have opened the door for infection, citing examples from the state's contact tracers. A wedding was connected to 44 cases, a family gathering was connected to 14 cases, a college party was connected to 63 cases, a bingo-hall event was connected to five cases, a yard sale was connected to seven cases, a funeral was connected to six cases and a coffee gathering was connected to eight cases and two deaths.

"There is so much spread at family gatherings, events at the house, weddings and funerals. It's where we are seeing a huge amount of spread," said Beshear, who regularly warns Kentuckians that such gatherings will become even more dangerous as we move them indoors during the fall and winter.

"Pandemic fatigue" is hitting Kentucky at a time when cases, hospitalizations and deaths are at record highs.   

In a separate Times article, Marie Tae McDermott and Jill Cowan talked to Elissa Epel, professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, about how to prevent pandemic fatigue from slipping into unsafe behavior. 

Epel told the Times that psychological distress conditions that look like depression and anxiety are not necessarily psychiatric disorders in the classic sense, but instead can be a "normal response to what's happening." Epel offered tips for how to cope with these stressors:
  • Limit exposure to upsetting news.
  • Be kind to yourself and others who are experiencing emotional distress.
  • Spend some time thinking about what personal care means to you because this is different for every person. For example, she said some people need more sleep, while others need to exercise.  
  • Avoid long periods of sedentary behavior. 
  • Epel also  noted that a little anxiety is good, because it propels us to socially distance, keep our hands washed and to wear a mask. 
Psychologist Carisa Parrish of Johns Hopkins Medicine also writes about "pandemic fatigue" and says: "Trying to adhere to anything extra is always a challenge. You can add extra steps to your routine for a few days, but sustained behavior change is hard. Especially when no one around you is sick, and you just don’t feel like wearing a mask or saying no to things you like to do. But the fact is, the precautions work.”

She offers these tips for dealing with coronavirus burnout and pandemic fatigue:
  • Just like you make a commitment to putting on a seatbelt, she says make a commitment to washing your hands, maintaining social distance and wearing a mask in public. 
  • Stick with reliable, trustworthy information sources and stay flexible as recommendations change because new facts are emerging as we learn more about the virus. 
  • Practice precautions until they become second nature.
  • Keep necessary supplies, like hand sanitizer and mask, handy.
  • Make sure you are reading about others who have gone through covid-19 to make it personal, because for many getting sick with covid-19 is an abstract idea.
  • Allow kids to pick out a mask and hand sanitizer scent that they like and give them permission to remind other family members if they aren't following safety guidelines. 
Studies show that stress, anxiety and depression have been on the rise since the pandemic hit.

A study, recently published on JAMA Network, found that depression rates are three times higher during the pandemic; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in late June found 40% of U.S. adults report they are struggling with mental health or substance abuse; and the annual Stress in America 2020 survey, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, found that 78% of adults said the pandemic is a significant source of stress for them and 67% said they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic. 

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