Distress Fatigue

by Dr. Jason MorrisMar 26, 2020

For weeks we have been inundated with information about COVID-19 and its effects on our world. Our government has been implementing more and more restrictive guidelines on us as a population in order to try to control the outbreak, “flatten the curve,” and minimize the impact on economy. Each day we turn on the news, open a web browser, or talk to someone, COVID-19 is typically in the conversation. As a clinical psychologist, this is a cause of concern for me.

Sociology tells us, when faced with emergency situations or threats, we naturally seek the company, understanding, and aid of others, to join with in protective efforts. When in confinement, those factors, with time, result in divisiveness that include decreased patience, irritability, and isolationism. It is important to engage in behaviors that increase cohesiveness to reduce anxiety, promote feelings of trust in group affiliation, and make conscious and deliberate choices to be proactive in the group.

Our family is not our enemy; we are our own. How we react to this situation is a reflection of us. Take personal time for you and, in turn, it will provide you the foundation to help others. Each machine is created with multiple, literal or figurative, cogs. Make sure yours is in sync and help others with theirs.

Be proactive in your environment instead of reactive. Reactivity results in additional stress due to addressing unforeseen or unplanned situations. Most individuals find themselves in a malaise during this time and feel powerless. This is simply untrue. For more than one week, some celebrated meetings in pajamas, getting up without an alarm and when they are ‘darn good and ready,” and enjoying a reduced list of daily responsibilities. Others were faced with how to address their children, suddenly becoming a school teacher, while addressing their other daily tasks. Still others, immediately embarked on a spiral of “Now what?” when considering the impact of panic buying, low financial resources, and the unknown of becoming sick. One glaring factor resulting from our current condition. “Normal” was no longer what we were engaged in. Our prior life structure has changed and may never look the same, again. The distinct lack of structure in our lives, the lack of deliberateness to our movements, a lack of direction toward a goal has disrupted our self-identity, sense of security, and predictability. In short, we are not fully aware of who we are, as individuals, anymore.

How can we return to that feeling of stability? How can we return to the confidence we had of ourselves just weeks ago? The best way to start is by making deliberate choices. One of the best ways, for you and your family, is reestablishing a daily routine in you and your sphere of influence.

As creatures of habit, routines provide stability and purpose. Right now, we, our families, our communities need this. Select a time to wake in the morning and make an honest effort to stick to it. Start a morning routine, maybe a modified one from last month, such as grabbing coffee and catching up on the world. Exercise, engage in daily hygiene, put on fresh clothes, anything you did before that was considered “normal.” Have a set time for your meals. Work around your home on specific tasks when you would normally be at work. Draw your day down as you used to, such as changing clothes when arriving home and watching television. Whatever you opt to do, start your schedule now.

Why are these things important? Your mental health influences not only you but that of your significant other’s mental health, the mental health of your children, and everyone else you talk to or come into contact with. I recently read an article by Sylvia Jacobson regarding response to confinement. While the situation of a highjacked plane may seem different, there are multiple parallels to our current situation. We are all in a confined space, with a set amount of people, with authorities directing over us during this time of unknown length.

Emergencies, crisis, and stress result in feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. These feeling are rooted in a perception of reduced influence in our lives. Those feelings are expressed through projection and displacement on others. Reestablishing a personal schedule is a step in the right direction and help minimize the negative feelings emerging in us and causing strain in our homes.

As individuals, we have not experienced the gravitas of a situation such as this. We were ill prepared, mentally, for this situation. Now is the time to take a personal inventory, ground ourselves in what we know, and make the conscious choice to be intentional. What we do will define us and set an example for our significant others, our children, our communities, and our nation, as a whole. Easy? Not in the least. Daunting? Absolutely.

Apply these thoughts to your life. If you continue to struggle, reach out for help. You are not alone. Nearly everyone in my industry, including Peace of Mind Psychological Services, is ready to help you during this time. All you need to do is reach out and ask for help. We stand ready to walk with you during this uncertain period.

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