Many schools will break up this week for the holidays. I think this year, the term ‘holiday’ may well have a different resonance, with ‘essence of lockdown fever’ from our experiences and the fact that we have entered a tier four set of further restrictions. There will inevitably be more tension, conflict and just plain loneliness around this Christmas season and many of us will naturally now be experiencing Covid Fatigue.
“COVID-19 fatigue is a complex of emotions that include boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, and resentment, all brought on by the loss of activities and social relations produced by pandemic restrictions.”*
Many of us will try to shake these emotions off as we have a natural tendency to try to ‘soldier on’ – but today, just before the pressures of the season really kick in, I invite you to consider rest and restoration within the family this Christmas – being especially kind to ourselves and others emotionally, as we all cope with a pandemic that is so much more than the physical contraction of a disease.
We are social animals, as well as biologically directed human beings. The interaction between our environment and our bodies is often overlooked or diminished by the myth that we can think ourselves out of a situation. We are however bound up in the complex patterns of our own bodies, our immediate environment and the impact of local, national and international human ‘beingness’. “No man is an island” so the famous saying goes.
I am often fascinated by the news briefings that almost always only include the “scientists” that deal directly with the biological effects of the Covid virus. To me, this misses our context. I propose that as the pandemic lengthens, it is these social sciences that need to be brought to the fore. Many of us are fortunate enough not to have directly experienced Covid, and yet we are now in a unique world-wide situation where our own response to something which we have not experienced becomes more and more crucial. This pandemic can only be tackled together.
The first step then, is acknowledgement that Covid fatigue as a psychological phenomenon is real – and is most probably affecting all of us, including our children in some way or another.
The second step is to try to understand this phenomenon of pandemic. In brief, there are many neurological, biological and social psychological processes working simultaneously. Governments throw numbers at us, and yet our brains are wired to limit the impact of ever-increasing numbers simply as a survival mechanism. When we experience a close friend or family member suffering from Covid, our natural response is empathetic, we want to help, we feel their pain. If it is a few more, our brains cope and we further empathise, but at some point the brain habituates on the messages, desensitising us or we simply would not cope trying to truly bodily empathise with the millions affected world-wide. It is a perfectly normal human reaction, for our own survival, that once the numbers increase we no longer truly biologically ‘feel’.
This is one explanation why we may hear some people say that they are ready and willing to flout the restrictions because the effect of Covid is “so small” in their own experience, the numbers numb us to our normal human response. But as Gorman and Gorman write: “Observing that the tendency to mentalize with one person more than many people is built into our brains does not mean we should accept it as an excuse for acting passively when facing large-scale crises. This observation implies, however, that we can no longer rely on our moral intuitions.”**
The third step then is reviewing our family values and the decisions we make; discussing how even though we may hear of and see other families bending the rules, we as a family acknowledge the longer-term gains. We believe we cannot plan due to the uncertainties of the pandemic and this nurtures more unrest: “The inability to plan for the future places individuals in a realm of stagnancy where they ruminate and catastrophize, often in isolation,“ says Dr. Leela Magavi, MD…….. “COVID fatigue as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms can adversely affect working memory and processing speed; consequently, individuals can make impulsive and risky decisions.”*** So just stepping back for a moment and deciding if the decisions we are making regarding our behaviour are in fact riskier than what is ‘normal’ for us.
The fourth step is increasing the attention we pay to self-care - for the whole family. It is ok to say no; to set aside time to read; cook nutritious meals; run and walk outside, exercise and sleep well. Covid fatigue is affecting our sleep, and for our teenagers this is an added concern: “Sleep is so much more than just ‘not awake’. It’s even more important than eating and exercise, and absolutely vital for every single bodily function you can imagine from cognitive skills such as memory and attention, to processing emotions, to physical growth, strength, mood, immunity”****
This website even has a link to a sleep calculator so we can check the optimum sleep cycles according to our age!
Step five – breathe! Take a look at those around us and draw on the compassion we have, to see this pandemic through. It will end, and we will all learn much about ourselves and others, but for now……rest and restore.