2020 to 2022 has been the most dismantling years for most of us. Having a modern day plague plunge us into the unknown where we were confined to our homes has been earth shattering. Not only has this disrupted our day to day lives, but now as we’re seeing, the economy too.
New Zealand’s response to the pandemic, whilst arguably conservative, was initially effective. In saying that, by the August 2021 lockdown, New Zealanders faced significant post pandemic fatigue and were well and truly over the rules and regulations imposed on them by the Labour government’s alert level and traffic light mechanisms (as evidenced by the markedly low compliance).
So what is pandemic fatigue? According to a great educational paper by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is defined as “demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions.” WHO notes that this is both an expected and a natural response to a prolonged public health crisis, particularly as the COVID-19 measures were rather invasive and had unprecedented impacts on our daily lives regardless of whether or not we actually contracted it.
The pandemic ended on a random Tuesday (13 September 2022 to be exact) here in New Zealand when the government abolished the traffic light system and removed the mask mandate. Has the fatigue evaporated though? Research suggests no. Given the complex and immensely interconnected sociological and psychological facets of pandemic fatigue, it doesn’t just poof away when mandates are removed but takes an active effort from governments and public health administrators to reinvigorate the public.
We’re not just over it for so many reasons. We’re getting used to a new reality where Covid-19 is now just an everyday thing and case numbers are not declining. Different people will be sick off work each week because they contracted Covid-19 over the weekend, causing capacity constraints at work. We also haven’t really had a chance to process what’s gone on in the last few years because we had to pivot to a new way of living and doing things (working from home, teaching your children with online learnings, pivoting your fitness business to now do online classes). It’s a once in a lifetime global pandemic, and it’s hard to process stressful events whilst you’re still in them.
While we can all acknowledge that post-pandemic fatigue is very real, how can we effectively combat it?
The first step is to acknowledge that we are actually just sick of the pandemic and the disruption that it’s brought to our lives and express our emotions. Reaching out to people you feel close to and comfortable with brings a sense of community. By acknowledging your emotions toward the matter and connecting with others, you can take an active step in understanding a trigger and resolving it.
Quarantining and isolating ourselves for the better part of two years has detrimentally affected our sense of community and created an enhanced sense of loneliness. Branded as social burnout post-pandemic, a number of studies have shown that the pandemic has caused people to feel increasingly mentally distanced, which directly correlates to a more negative and cynical attitude. Because so many big events have been cancelled, it’s important to try to compensate for lost time but not overcompensate such that you feel drained. Scheduling back to back engagements after being physically isolated from your friends isn’t the answer, but easing into socialising is important to rebuild the sense of community.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, it’s also pertinent that you prioritise the things that you enjoy. In the post-pandemic zeitgeist, there’s been a significant paradigm shift in terms of how people view the world. Work is now perceived as a secondary calling, and focussing on hobbies (like going on hikes or playing sports) and family is more important to a lot of people. Make sure that you spend time doing the things that make you smile, so that you’re not left behind feeling unsatisfied and unhappy.
So the next time somebody brings up Covid, remember that being “over it” is a completely justified response, and actually one of the most crucial steps in finding a new normal and combating your post-pandemic fatigue.