Mask mandates have returned, businesses are closing, and schools are in the process of moving back online. The result? Many of us are sad and demoralized as we learn how to navigate the highly contagious Omicron variant.
"People are experiencing a complicated set of emotions right now," says Kristin Francis, MD, a psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. "Many people who followed the public health rules and made sacrifices thought they would be rewarded with the pandemic coming to an end. Others feel like they've sacrificed enough over the past two years and no longer want to strictly abide by the rules. Many are angry and upset that some people are intentionally turning heads at doing what is asked. It's been a lot, to say the least."
There is a draining sense of hopelessness that things will never get back to normal or to the way they were before the pandemic. Others who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe COVID-19 may have lived in fear of dying or getting sick for nearly two years. Many feel the mental toll of isolation and the strain of constantly adapting to new rules, new ways of doing things, and new realities. Increasingly, people are frustrated, exhausted, and angry. Francis recommends the following to cope with the emotional strain of the pandemic and "pandemic fatigue."
Francis offers four tips for coping with these feelings
Increase awareness of your emotions
Take some time, pause, and bring awareness to your feelings. Observe your feelings in a non-judgmental way. Allow yourself to feel your emotions without feelings of guilt or shame.
Validate your feelings out loud with a trusted confidant or write them down in a journal, whatever is most helpful to you. Examples include things like: "I feel angry. I feel some deaths could have been prevented. I'm frustrated. I feel like I've missed out on many milestones these past two years. I'm lonely. I'm tired of not seeing my friends and family. I'm scared. The future seems so uncertain."
The most important thing is to bring self-awareness to your feelings and recognize they are valid. Awareness and acceptance of your feelings are the first steps toward taking action to impact your situation.
"Everyone everywhere is experiencing something similar," Francis says. "We are going through a collective trauma. It's best to acknowledge your feelings—grief, anger, sadness, whatever it may be. Recognize your feelings and acknowledge that they are ok, normal, and part of the human experience."
Next, remind yourself that feelings are transient. You will not always feel this way, even though the feelings may feel indefinite. Francis recommends focusing on a time when you felt hopeless, angry, or upset in the past. How did this situation play out? How do you feel about it now? What helped you feel different or better? Was it time, distance, a new perspective, therapy? Reflection can remind us of forgotten strategies and naturally help provide perspective.
"We are going through a collective trauma. It's best to acknowledge your feelings—grief, anger, sadness, whatever it may be. Recognize your feelings and acknowledge that they are ok, normal, and part of the human experience."
Kristin Francis, MD
Tell your COVID stories
Take an opportunity to share your feelings out loud with someone you trust about what is upsetting to you. Find a trusted friend and vent for a few minutes, start every meeting with a check-in to see how people are doing, or call and check in on your loved ones. Be an active listener when others open up to you.
"The best thing we can do is to continue to talk to each other," Francis says. "Many are on edge because of change, loss, or trauma they've experienced working on the frontlines. We also forget that a lot of people have lost someone to COVID-19. Listening to each other's stories right now is very important."
Stay connected with those you love
While being safe is a top priority, isolation is mentally unhealthy. Withdrawing from people and spending time alone can enhance loneliness, anger, and sadness and distort your thinking. Interaction with others keeps us balanced.
"Connect with others—friends and loved ones who care about you," Francis says. "It will keep you grounded and give you purpose. It will remind you of what matters at the end of the day.
Hope, optimism, and looking ahead
"Keeping schedules, maintaining routines, practicing breathing and relaxation exercises, moving your body, and getting outside—these are a few things we can do to keep moving forward," Francis says. "Disconnecting from the news and negative stories on TV and social media will help, too."
Pandemic fatigue has most likely contributed to the growing case counts, so now is not the time to be lax on masking or following guidelines.
If the weight of the pandemic feels too much to bear, don't forget that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness. Don't let self-doubt or stigma keep you from reaching out for help. Prolonged sadness or depression will only get worse without treatment. Talking to a mental health professional or your doctor can be the outlet you need to begin feeling better and find the strength you need to ride out the pandemic.