By Tara Watkins, LICSW
We are born into this world wired for connection. It’s part of the human experience. Over the course of the past two months of sheltering in place and mandatory social distancing, we have adapted and created innovative ways to continue connecting. Yet, most of us have also been in crisis mode. The flight or fight response of our sympathetic nervous system triggered by the unknowns of COVID. Frankly, it is not healthy to live in a frequent state of hypervigilance. As a result, most of us have begun to feel just plain exhausted.
This sense of both mental and physical exhaustion is defined by experts as quarantine fatigue. Mental health experts stress that quarantine fatigue is a normal and natural response during these times. “The COVID-19 crisis has transformed so many aspects of our lives in a short time,” explains Dr. Austin Hall, MD, medical director for the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. “Quarantine fatigue is a completely reasonable response in the context of so much change and uncertainty.”
Even the most resilient and adaptable among us are not immune to the impact of COVID-19. “This pandemic has elevated the notion of powerlessness and uncertainty to a level we’ve never before experienced,” says psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D.
While it may be next to impossible to eliminate quarantine fatigue, it is feasible and healthy to find ways to manage and reduce its impact on our overall wellbeing. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 8 tips to hopefully better cope with quarantine fatigue. (Please keep in mind that this list is not all inclusive.)
- Bring it back to the basics: Experts stress that a strong foundation grounded in adequately addressed basic needs makes a world of difference in managing quarantine fatigue. Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
First, define the difference between what you want and what you need. Then, focus on making sure the basics such as food, water, shelter, safety, and support are met before moving on to other things you want to do.
(Please know that if you are struggling with how to meet basic needs support is available. Call a trusted friend or family member, or medical provider. The JCS Kesher and case management programs, are also available of consultations.)
Manage expectations and set realistic goals: Ask yourself questions like “What would I like to accomplish today?” Try to identify something within your control that provides an immediate sense of accomplishment and purpose. For example, trying a new recipe, cleaning out a closet, planting a garden, these are all small manageable goals that have quick results.
When we set small, manageable goals, we allow ourselves to benefit from short term rewards, which may help boost us up enough to better deal with some of the unknowns in these challenging times.
- Reassess what is important (both pre pandemic and now): Were you headed in the direction you wanted to be before COVID? Perhaps some aspirations are currently on hold and you are not certain if they will still be attainable following COVID.
I encourage you to try and focus on what is important today. How can you remain true to your authentic self both now and in the months ahead? What areas are you willing to compromise on and what is out of the question? What values do you live by? Have any of your desires or plans for the future changed?
Reassessment is a wonderful tool for helping us remain true to our authentic selves, no matter what is going on in the world.
- Live in the present moment as much as possible: As Rhode Island begins to reopen in various ways it’s easy to find ourselves plagued by continual “what ifs” and things currently out of our control. In these moments, I encourage you to try and redirect yourself to what is real, today, and within your control.
Some find mindfulness techniques, such as grounding, helpful. Never tried grounding before? Try the exercise known as 54321. This practice involves using all of your senses to be more fully present.
First take several deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then…..
Find 5 things that you can see in the room (name them and look at them for a moment.)
Find 4 things you can feel (name those and focus on the feel of them)
Find 3 things you can hear (name and listen to them)
Find 2 things you can smell (let yourself smell them)
Lastly, find 1 thing you can taste (allow yourself time to taste it.)
When you are done, tune into how you feel.
As with any technique, the more often we practice it the more trained and conditioned our bodies will be to make it part of our automatic response system in times of higher stress.
- Recognize that you may be grieving. We are all experiencing multiple losses in different ways right now. Grief and loss bring their own emotions. For example, we might find ourselves feeling more on edge and not exactly sure why or feeling angry at things we cannot control. We might find ourselves withdrawing and avoiding others, or we might just be completely exhausted (as is the case with quarantine fatigue). These are all important to recognize as normal reactions to grief and loss.
(If you are struggling with ways to process your grief or negative feelings please reach out to a trusted friend, member of your community, or Kesher worker)
- Unplug and move your body: Unplug digitally each day in whatever way is meaningful for you. As we spend more time within our homes, it easy to get into a sedentary lifestyle, which can contribute to many unhealthy habits. One way to work exercise into our schedule is to incorporate it into spots left open from our pre pandemic routine. For example, you might try taking a walk, run or bike ride around the neighborhood during the time you would normally have commuted.
When weather permits, getting outdoors and into some sunlight, (while still following necessary social distancing practices), can help improve overall mood. Some find walks around the neighborhood in the evening helpful for unwinding. Others may prefer just laying on a blanket or sitting in a chair outside with a good book. (Admittedly, this may not require moving much but can be relaxing and refreshing in its own right.)
Exercise is also a great way to keep our bodies moving, relieve stress, support our immune system and improve overall mental health. If spending time outside is not a safe option, virtual exercise classes are widely available. The possibilities of what you can do to unplug are virtually (pardon the pun) endless!
- Consider recording your COVID experience for posterity sake: As the phrase goes “this too shall pass.” The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end. It may take longer than we might like, but it will happen.
We are living in historical times. I encourage you to think about how you would like to capture the moment to share with your children, grandchildren or future generations. Perhaps you might utilize a form of expression. – such as photography, journaling, scrapbooking, drawing etc. (Note: The Massachusetts Historical Society, based in Plymouth Massachusetts, is looking to record experiences of local individuals for posterity reach out to them for more details.)
- Explore new ways of connecting: Continue to look for new ways you might connect with others each day. Here are few you may wish to consider.
- The “Connect Five” concept: Try to reach out every day to five people, it can provide support for both you and them.
- Participate in the “bear hunt”: Decorate your windows facing the street for children walking or driving by. Many neighborhoods are placing stuffed bears or other animals on windowsills for children to point out as part of a scavenger hunt.
- Volunteer: We know that being kind and charitable to other people boosts our own mood, so reaching out and being a cheerful presence for somebody else is a win win situation for all. (Would you like to explore volunteering? I encourage you to reach out to temple clergy to explore opportunities within the congregation, contact the Kesher worker, or Samantha Chinn, Volunteer Coordinator at Jewish Collaborative Services at 401-331-1244.)
- Make eye contact and smile or nod hello: Whether it’s through the window in your home, while out for a walk in the neighborhood or just driving down the street. This simple gesture is known to go a long way in helping others feel they are not alone and brighten someone’s day.
- Use humor: Find time each day to participate in something humorous. Laughing relaxes our bodies, boosts our immune system, and triggers the release of endorphins, or body’s natural feel good chemicals. So crack a joke, watch a funny tv show (with a household member or virtually with friends), have a dance party in your home, make an obstacle course for your kids within your home or yard, and be sure to have the adults join in the fun too!
Above all, don’t expect perfection. It’s impossible to maintain perfection in all areas of our lives, especially now. In order to best cope we need to be a little more kind, gentle and forgiving of ourselves and others in these unprecedented times.
Aubrey, Alison. “How to keep people safe as Quarantine Fatigue Sets In”, NPR, May 4th 2020.
Dana, Deb. (2018) “The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation.
Gray, Dan. (May, 4, 2020) “Yes, Quarantine Fatigue is Real. Here’s How to Cope.” The Healthline.com.
Kessler, David. (2019) “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”
Lindberg, Sara, M. ED. (May 12, 2020). “How to Cope with Quarantine Fatigue” VeryWell.com
Marcus, Julia. (professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, May 11, 2020). “Quarantine Fatigue is Real,” The Atlantic.
Thayer, Jeremy, LICSW. (Spring 2020). Jewish Collaborative Services Webinar Series, “Grief and COVID,” and “Managing Mental Health Conditions During COVID.”
Thurrot, Stephanie. (May, 7, 2020) “How to cope with quarantine fatigue in the new normal.” Today.com
Local Community Resources
Jewish Collaborative Services Counseling Center is continuing to take referrals and is offering Telehealth sessions at this time. For more information contact 401-331-1244.
Behavioral Health (BH) Link: 401-414-5465 (This local hotline provides 24/7 crisis and suicide risk assessment with referral help as needed for adults.) Those 18 and under 18 and under may call the Kids Behavioral Health (BH) Link at 855-KID(543)-LINK(5465).
The Case Management department of Jewish Collaborative Services (JCS) is available to help with new financial struggles that might emerge such as rental assistance, difficulty playing bills etc. Please contact 401-331-1244 for more details and direction (or speak with your temple Kesher worker).
The JCS Louis and Goldie Chester Full Plate Kosher Food Pantry: Is available for some drop off and pick up pantry food hours. Contact Marcie Inger at Marcie@jfsri.org for more details (or reach out to your temple’s Kesher worker.)
Looking to connect with others in a volunteer capacity during COVID? Reach out within your temple community, contact the Kesher worker, or Samantha Chinn who is the volunteer Coordinator at Jewish Collaborative Services. Samantha may be reached at 401-331-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Level Support
Meals on Wheels: For both Kosher and non-kosher intakes go to https://www.rimeals.org/. Eligibility has expanded during COVID. If you were previously not eligible but feel you might benefit from delivered meals, I encourage you to apply again through the website link or contact your Kesher worker for additional help.
Department of Health: 401-222-8022
United Way: in RI 211
Rhode Island Commerce 401-278-9100 Resources for small to medium business in RI.
Helpful links set up by the Governor’s team:
(RI’s state site outlining reopening plans) https://www.reopeningri.com/?fbclid=IwAR3ObuvsR1pn-W5lJ-flRLSADFvgXFe7T8zl9-U5F73sSOecvXxD9BUnnqc
RIdelivers.com: State website for accessing Rhode community food bank, grocery delivery options and other food assistance options in the state.
Employri.org: Set up by governor’s team as a one stop for available jobs during COVID. List is updated regularly and diverse level of expertise and job experience.