The COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to an expansion of the English language. Common new words and phrases include coronacoaster (a fluctuation of mood related to covid restrictions), blursday (not knowing what day it is because your routines are so mixed up), and covidiot (a not-so-kind characterization of someone taking precautions you feel are excessive). While many of the terms are benign in the world of mental health, there is one that may have the ability to greatly influence how we see and understand anxiety and depression.
That phrase is Covid Fatigue.
Covid fatigue, is a phrase used to describe the psychological impact of dealing with the information, threat, and continual change that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our day to day lives. In addition to feelings of frustration and overwhelm, symptoms of Covid fatigue include:
- Mood swings, difficulty regulating emotions
- Persistent low mood, lack of motivation
- Disruptions in sleep patterns
- Change in appetite
- Increased anxiety, persistent worries
- Social withdrawal (avoiding connecting with others even when it is possible)
- Muscle tension
- Trouble concentrating, lack of clarity or focus
These grouping of symptoms are not new. They have been studied, documented, and discussed in national media thousands of times. These are the symptoms of depression.
So why are we calling it Covid Fatigue? Why rename something we already have a name for?
The answer can be found in the stigma associated with mental illness. Thanks to historical (and continuing) mistreatment and mischaracterization of those in mental distress, many still fear that identifying a change in their mental capacity is an admission of being dysfunctional or broken.
But depression is a RESPONSE, not an ILLNESS. It is the exhaustion that occurs when we have tried to cope with too much for loo long. As we spend our physical and mental energy without sufficient ability to recover, our brain works frantically to reduce our output. When this effort stops being enough to help us cope, our brain systemically begins to shut us down in a last-ditch effort to regroup.
Depression is exhaustion.
We see now, that when we label depression as fatigue, we give people language that does not trigger fear and shame. We help them validate and share in what is a very normal human experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed more demand on our mental capacity than ever before. Our minds were not created for the kind of chronic stress and competing demands society has been facing even before the pandemic began. Our brains are tired and trying to help us limit our output to conserve what precious energy we have left.
Focus on Recovery.
Perhaps you have been calling it Covid fatigue, depression, overwhelm, or a funk. It does not matter what you call it as long as you recognize it is your body’s response to being depleted. Embracing this process and finding ways to prioritize your recovery can limit the duration and intensity of a depressive episode. While professional support can be helpful, there are also many things you can do on your own. Here are just a few:
- Prioritizing sleep and rest
- Making healthy food choices and avoiding high-sugar foods
- Drinking more water (dehydration is a major contributor to fatigue)
- Getting outside (natural light provides a boost to the mind and body)
- Saying No (avoid taking on new commitments, give yourself time)
- Breathing (spend 2-5 minutes each hour to breathe deeply and release any muscle tension)
- Connecting with others where you can but take some space if you feel you need to
- Talking about how you feel (let others know what you need or how they can help)
Learn more about recovering from depression during the free upcoming webinar, Therapist Not Required: A Re-Introduction to Anxiety & Depression which will be held on May 9, 2021 from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm.
Making changes to support your recovery will mean giving yourself permission to reduce your output (the amount of mental and physical energy you spend each day). In a society where productivity is king, it can be hard to skip a chore or take a nap without feeling guilty. Slowing down is not always easy but it is necessary. Where you can, now is the time to make sure your expectations and activities are reasonable and based on your health, wellness, and recovery.
For more information on anxiety, depression, and other mental health topics visit www.skinnerpsychotherapy.com/blog.
Bonnie J. Skinner is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor. Having developed her career in community based mental health across Canada, Bonnie now owns and operates a practice in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where she helps individuals, couples , families and organizations overcome obstacles to their chosen goals.