How to deal with psychological distress during COVID-19

How to fight pandemic fatigue

Many are facing a second or even third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic right now. The initial shock of the first wave has been replaced with pandemic fatigue. After restrictions were lifted during the summer in a lot of places, many countries are back in lockdown now, with bleak prospects for the winter to come.

This article offers some advice on how to take action and fight pandemic fatigue.

Even though most came out of the first lockdown unharmed, many have experienced COVID cabin fever. Our memories of the first lockdown are still fresh. Yes, we started to bake our own bread, sang from our balconies, did more yoga, more camping, or got a dog. Still, the thought of more imposed changes to our daily lives is frustrating and triggers negative feelings like anxiety, stress, loneliness, boredom, and overall uncertainty. 

2020 has been challenging. If you are experiencing distress related to the pandemic, it is important to understand that you are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic concerns everyone and we are all impacted by it in a way. It is a real crisis and most of us have never experienced anything like this before.

To manage negative feelings, it can be helpful to understand where exactly these feelings are coming from. Emotions are always tied to thoughts and actions. Understanding what exactly is going on with us is powerful. It gives us back control to feel better. A first step to do this is to sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and take a minute to listen to yourself. 

Start by exploring your own thoughts. Write down what is going through your head. Examples could be “Am I going to stay safe?”, “When is this going to be over?” “Can I go home for Christmas?”. Next, do the same for behavior. Examples for altered behavior could be avoiding other people, sleeping more or sleeping less, watching more TV, or consuming more alcohol or drugs. Then do the same for feelings. Have you been experiencing more anxiety, sadness, or loneliness? Maybe also boredom, anger, or frustration? Stress can also have an impact on our body. Have you noticed more tension in your body, more pain, or inner unrest?

Take a look at your list. Maybe there are some things that stand out, specific thoughts that could be challenged, or behaviors that aren’t very productive. Once we realize these, we can start to take control and adjust what is not good for us, and feel better.

By spending a lot more time at home, we lose our normal daily routine. A daily routine provides us with structure and it is reassuring to know what is going to happen. Specifically now, when so much around us is unpredictable. A daily routine also helps to get distracted from negative thoughts, and worry. And maybe you miss little things that were part of your ‘old’ routine and used to brighten your day on your way to work or the gym. It can be a good idea to deliberately develop a new daily routine tailored to the lockdown to improve your mood and feel more in charge.

To create a daily routine, plan activities for each day of the week. Importantly, plan positive activities, such as calling a friend, taking a walk, or doing something creative, to balance things less fun that also have to be done. Don’t forget to plan regular breaks and physical exercise each day. It will be much more likely to follow a daily routine that is realistic. So don’t plan too many activities or things that are hard to do right now, or it could become frustrating.

Lastly, get support. Guidelines like the ones suggested here are often used in cognitive behavioral therapy. They have been proven successful to manage stress and anxiety. Sometimes it can be hard to put something into practice alone, even though it makes sense or seems easy. There are more tools available now than ever and no problem is too minor to be addressed and taken seriously. Online therapy, psychology apps, and support groups lower the bar to get expert help and can make a significant difference. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging everyone. So don’t hesitate, take back control and start to feel better.



Dr. Katharina Koch is a Clinical Psychologist and earned a PhD in Psychology and Neuroscience.

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