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Overcoming COVID-19 Fatigue
Dr. Henry Oh
With the holiday season coming soon, it is very common for families and different groups to be thinking or making plans by this time of the year on how they will spend their holidays. Most of the activities involve reunions, parties, celebrations, small or large group gatherings, and the common denominator of all these activities is potluck. Everyone is invited or requested to bring homemade or commercially-prepared dish of food to be shared. The interactions in these gatherings bring fun, camaraderie or closeness to many people. The exchange of gifts, sharing of stories, singing and having family parlor games are enjoyed by many people especially children of all ages. Other fun activities during the holiday season include traveling and sight-seeing.
However, all these fun activities are now restricted or even halted. The coming of COVID-19 into our lives has disrupted many of our daily activities. Our cherished holiday season would not be spared from this. It’s been almost ten months now that we have been dealing with shutdowns, lockdowns, wearing of masks, hand-washing, precautions, etc. Staying home or “quarantining oneself” could be the safest way from being exposed to COVID-19. However, staying home for a long time has many “side effects.” Adults and children feel isolated. Going out to do essential house chores or errands with mask and hand sanitizers, also add to these “side effects.” Eventually many people get “tired” and this is what we call “COVID fatigue.” Some people describe it as “caution fatigue” which means, “It’s when people start to have low motivation when it comes to following safety guidelines” (Mattison, Caution Fatigue, Khon2.com, June 2020).
Our life today is so different from just about a year ago. We miss so much that kind of life that we used to have. There is a feeling of longingness for that normal life. We often hear from many individuals asking questions like, “When is this going to end? When is the vaccine available? When can I travel?” The more we ponder on these questions, the more we become anxious and worried. Spending so much time thinking about our old normal life would add more frustrations because we tend to compare our “isolated” or “restricted” life today from the past one. We may even feel “guilty” for taking things for granted what we had in the past. Eventually many people become so stressed out, not to mention the increasing cases of mental health problems and drug addiction. This pandemic has caused other problems to arise such as difficulty sleeping, change in eating habits, emotional worries about job loss or loss of income, and worsening existing health problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (CDC, July 2020).
The important question now is “How are we going to overcome this COVID fatigue?” There are several things that you can do to help you cope up with COVID fatigue. First of all, there are three (3) very important things to do. First, minimize or take a break from watching or listening to news and reading articles about COVID-19 or pandemic. If you keep watching or reading news about the pandemic for a long time, it can cause you to worry, become depress and even panic that can badly affect your daily life or routine at home. It is still important though to check once in a while the progress of the pandemic situation and the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
Secondly, avoid excessive use of your cellphone because it can “isolate” or “alienate” other people who live with you at home. If you’re on your cellphone all the time, this can send a wrong signal to the other person who is talking to you. It can be misinterpreted as ignoring the other person. Since many people already feel “isolated” or restricted at home, this would put the other person more in “isolation” or “alienation.” The next time you talk to the other person, he or she may just ignore you, too. Always keep an active communication at home especially during family time like lunch or dinner.
Thirdly, give your body sunlight exposure for 10- 15 minutes a day between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. If your skin is sensitive, 10 minutes may be enough. The human body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Some of the health benefits of sunlight include: improves mood, improves sleep, promotes bone growth, strengthen immune system and promotes weight loss (Nazish, Why Sunlight is actually good for you, Forbes, Feb. 2018). Sunlight exposure can help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of seasonal depression during winter when there is less sunlight. Low self-esteem, depressed mood, loss of interest, changes in eating habits and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating and fatigue (Robinson et al, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Help Guide, Aug. 2020).
Another way to overcome COVID fatigue is learning how to breath when anxiety or panic sets into your mind. Your chest may become tight and your heart rate increases. Remember to do deep breathing. Inhale deeply, hold your breath for 3-5 seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do these 5 times and then go back to your regular breathing. Do this breathing exercise at least 3 times a day, or whenever you feel anxious or stress out.
Meditation is highly recommended especially when you wake up in the morning, and before going to sleep at night. Stretching and aerobic exercises are important for oxygenation. One simple exercise is called the shoulder shrug. Raise the top of your shoulders as high as you can while inhaling deeply at the same time. You should feel some tension in your shoulders and neck. Hold your shoulders up and breath for 3-5 seconds, and then drop your shoulders back down while exhaling your breath through your mouth at the same time. Do this 3-5 times. Physical exercise includes walking around and every corner of the house at least 3 rounds. If you have a smaller area, do it for 6 rounds. Do this walking exercise 3 times a day- morning, afternoon, and last one in the evening. It is best to do this after eating a meal, or when your stomach is full. This helps to keep your waistline and weight from increasing.
Jogging in place, dancing, Zumba, Pilates, cycling and Tai Chi are also very helpful in relieving stress. If you’re the athletic type of person or one who does heavy workout, going to the gym may expose you to the coronavirus and other viral or bacterial infections. Find something that can substitute your gym workout. Skipping or jumping rope is good for your cardiovascular system. Start with lower number of repetitions and build it gradually on a weekly time frame. You can do workouts at home for each specific muscle of your body without the use of machines or major equipment. You can use dumbbells and weight bench at home. If you have a pet, carry your pet as a weight for your exercise. Be creative but be safe when doing your home workouts.
Learn to do arts and crafts at home such as painting and crochet. You may find a new skill or talent that you haven’t discovered yet. Take short courses online. Attend online seminars. Learn to cook gourmet meals. Play with your pets. Teach your pets some tricks. Learn a new hobby. Learn to play the piano, guitar or flute. Eat your meals regularly. Do home gardening. Watch adventure movies. Call your family and friends. Stay away from caffeine, energy drinks and spicy foods. Find or use a social media that is more positive or useful. Read self-help books or articles including spiritual or faith-based books. Write a journal. Post entries to your journal daily and write a weekly summary. Focus on what you accomplished.
Make a list of all possible fun activities that you can think of. Create a table that lists each activity in one column, and add 7 columns that correspond to the days of the week like Monday, Tuesday, and so on. Organize the activities into 2 or 3 groups: one for morning, one for afternoon, and possibly one for evening. The goal is to overcome COVID fatigue by keeping yourself busy while enjoying your home activities. Don’t let this pandemic nightmare engulf you. Build and strengthen yourself physically, mentally and spiritually so you can help in the same way your other family members, friends and your community.