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How to beat COVID fatigue

5 October 2020
3 minute read

mother sleeping with baby on chest

Are you and your kids worn down by lockdown, and so over corona? There’s a name for it - “COVID fatigue”. It looks similar to burnout, and it has many silent sufferers, in both adults and children. These are ways to recognise it and address it.

What is COVID fatigue?COVID fatigue is a feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious due to the sustained uncertainty that the novel coronavirus has introduced to our lives. The symptoms are very similar to burnout, but the source is different. “Burnout is a response to stress and exhaustion brought on by doing too much. COVID fatigue is a response to a situation that has been imposed on all of us and we have no control over,” life coach Judy Klipin explains.

Symptoms in adults and kidsEmotions are overblown or erratic
You can feel anger, despair, joy, irritation, excitement, optimism, pessimism all in one day. It’s not called the rona-coaster for nothing!

Poor concentration
You are not able to focus as well or for as long as you used to. And hours of Zoom meetings or lessons are more challenging and exhausting than in-person meetings, Judy says.

Many of us are reaching for comfort food that is high in sugar, fats, carbs and caffeine.

Feeling exhausted
You might be sleeping more, or less, or sleeping badly. This makes minor physical and mental exertion very tiring.

Joy is stifled
What used to feel meaningful and exciting feels pointless and boring. Many of us are questioning life choices and meaning – what Judy calls an “existential emergency”.

How kids are affectedThe rapid transition to online learning at the start of COVID-19 severely disrupted children’s routines and in particular, their social lives. Even now they are mostly back at school, their lives are very different to pre-COVID-19 and they are likely missing out on a lot of interaction - sporting events, family occasions, birthday parties, visits to grandparents and outings.

The social aspect is important to the child’s development and well-being. “Learning is complemented by social incentives, that is, engaging with others in order to learn. School learning is academic, social and developmental and is crucial in a child’s development,” explains educational psychologist Kristen Strahlednorff.

Symptoms in kidsNo motivation
Seeing peers at school provides incentive, and it’s been stripped from them for months. So, it’s been hard to get up in the morning, let alone do schoolwork.

Depression or anger
Think of COVID-19 as placing a child continuously in the ‘naughty corner’, in that it is a form of self-isolation. They might also start pushing back against rules and safety precautions.

Too much screen time can be a contributing factor here, for example watching too much Netflix or YouTube instead of doing schoolwork.

How to combat COVID fatigue

  • Expect less of yourself and others and set realistic expectations. It isn’t possible to achieve all that you were achieving in “the olden days.”
  • Rest more Try to get a good night’s sleep and be sure to put in periods of down time throughout the day – a proper lunch break, tea breaks and time to get fresh air and stretch your legs.
  • Exercise even if it is just a walk in the sunshine every day.
  • Eat well focusing on fresh fruit and vegetables and protein-rich foods, and drink plenty of water.
  • Ask for help when you need it and encourage others (especially kids) to do so too

And for the kids

  • Limit screen time when not on the internet for school. Encourage them to find other ways to occupy themselves, like cooking, riding bikes or playing card games.
  • Keep routines and boundaries - children flourish within them, they create stability and a sense of purpose.
  • Open communication encourages your children to express their frustrations and opinions and share their concerns with you.
  • Explain decisions as this helps your child understand and rationalise the rules and boundaries that have been set by regulation, and by you, for their safety.

The SA Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG) says their helpline has been receiving more calls since the start of lockdown from people feeling anxious, lonely, worried and depressed. Many callers are stressed about a combination of issues including the spread of COVID-19, finances, relationship problems, job security, grief, gender-based violence and trauma.

We’ve all been through an extraordinarily difficult time, so forgive yourself - and your family - if you’re feeling out of sorts. The trick is to keep expectations manageable and take one day at a time. If you feel you are not coping, get help from friends, family or medical professionals.

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