SINCE the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic we have witnessed and lived through a series of global crises, most recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Against this backdrop of daily drama, many have continued to try to manage work, family, childcare and a social life based on the ebbs and flows of variants and safety guidelines. In spite of these challenges, life has carried on.
While this time seems unprecedented, the effects of longstanding stress on large sections of the population are not unique to our time. In the Second World War, with the threat of air raids, the British government produced posters with the mantra ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Similarly, at the beginning of the pandemic, many places were decorated with slogans such as ‘We Are in This Together’.
Here we are, more than two years later, and it’s hard not to notice a sense of learned helplessness. The chronic stress of the pandemic, and subsequent crises, seems to wear down our sense of optimism and resilience.
Terms such as crisis fatigue and long-Covid fatigue have emerged to describe the cumulative stress and its effect on our collective mental health. Psychology offers coping skills for anxiety symptoms that emerge with immediacy, but the impact and treatment of slow-burn anxiety is less obvious.
Interventions such as deep breathing, cognitive reframing, mindfulness, meditation, and behavioural activation, all aimed at calming the sympathetic nervous system, are excellent treatments for anxiety, but these are more difficult to employ when our body has become used to chronic anxiety.
There are effective ways to fight prolonged crisis fatigue. Here are seven tips to support you to ‘keep calm and carry on’.
1. Don’t let working from home isolate you
We might agree that wearing tracksuits all day while working from home is a bliss none of us ever thought possible. Yet, many have also noticed that working from home can become a bit isolating and repetitive.
Studies on the physiological and psychological effects of working from home found positive and negative effects on mental health. The negative impacts depended on factors such as home environment, level of organisational support, and our level of social connections outside work. So, if the only people you see are fellow workers on the weekly online meeting, or an endless stream of TikTokers, it is time to reach out to your friends.
2. Limit social media use, and be wary of breaking news
Between inaccuracies, extreme perspectives, and your family’s and friend’s take on the latest world events, social media has the potential to perpetuate chronic fatigue. In fact, a review of 13 studies on social media found that its use correlates with anxiety, depression and psychological distress.
If your first thought is ‘but how will I keep up with the news?’ perhaps you should think again. It’s been found that the general public’s ability to process new and evolving information related to crises tends to degrade over time. In other words, you may have lost some of your critical thinking skills over the course of the pandemic.
In addition, news outlets tend to overuse ‘breaking news’ as a tactic to grab your attention. Usually the news is not ‘breaking’, or the reporting has not been confirmed and might include false or misleading information.
3. Go outside and move your body
If your job involves sitting for much of the day, you may be contributing to your own chronic fatigue. Prolonged sitting has a host of negative effects on physical and mental health, including the development of diabetes, heart disease, back pain, obesity, depression, anxiety and a lower quality of life. Studies have indicated that taking short breaks to do 15-20 minutes of exercise can really be impactful in combating those negative effects.
4. Do something to improve your community in a real and pragmatic way.
When the news is doom and gloom it can sometimes make us forget that we have the power to make a difference in our community. Volunteering a few hours per week has been shown to boost mood. All kinds of activities can be a great way to remind us we can make the world a better place.
5. Try to avoid work tasks that perpetuate chronic fatigue
You know that new project you’ve been looking to start at work? Well, maybe procrastinating on this a little longer isn’t the worst idea. One thing we have learned about chronic fatigue is that certain types of tasks tend to make it worse. The following list was adapted from a 2021 study of health care workers. We should do our best to avoid these types of tasks.
6. Create a clear boundary between work and free time
The days of punching a clock are long gone for many remote workers. Today, ending the workday is as simple as closing the laptop. Receiving work messages and texts afterhours is increasingly blurring the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives. Being technologically tethered to work has been linked to chronic fatigue. In one study it was discovered that afterhours’ communication was linked to people becoming more adversarial with their colleagues.
So, when the working day ends, make that transition clear. Resist the urge to respond to work emails, log off from Teams at the end of business, and consider activating an automatic prompt on your emails that informs people you will respond to them during working hours.
7. Build relaxation into your weekly schedule
Monthly yoga classes are not enough. While it may take the edge off a bad day, it’s no remedy for chronic stress. A study found that participants who were chronically stressed and who completed twice-a-week, one-hour-long yoga classes for two months reported increases in positive effects, decreases in levels of distress and stress, weight loss and increased flexibility. Similar findings have been found for weekly meditation, massage and other activities.
Take time to build relaxation into your schedule. Self-care isn’t a treat; it’s a necessity, particularly these days.