By Alex Janin
Feb. 1, 2022
Many of us are hitting a new stage of pandemic slog in February.
Twenty-four percent of people reported they were “not too happy” in life in 2021, up from 13% in 2018, according to the General Social Survey, a sociological survey conducted by research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. The share of those who said they were “very happy” declined to 19% from 31% over the same period.
The unhappiness people feel now is different from the unhappiness of the early days of Covid-19, psychologists say.
The intense fear and anger have waned, often giving way to dejection, melancholy and what some people describe as whiplash, says Vaile Wright, a clinical psychologist and the senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association. Brief spurts of hope after the first time Covid-19 cases started to decrease or after the first round of vaccines became available have been dashed by continued emergence of new variants.
“There’s this sort of sense of almost giving up, that people who have tried to do the best that they can feel like it’s not getting better,” says Dr. Wright.
As we approach the start of the third year of the pandemic, many people feel more depleted and less able to complete daily routines, psychologists say. The phenomenon is called resilience fatigue, which is the exhaustion that comes after a prolonged period of having to stay motivated or positive, says Brad Kennedy, chief operating officer of addiction treatment center Driftwood Recovery.
“On mile 18, everyone questions whether they can finish the marathon,” says Mr. Kennedy. “But now, imagine the finish line is moving.”
The dropping temperatures and darker days of winter, which encourage hibernation and make it harder to socialize outside, aren’t helping, psychologists say. For some people, seasonal affective disorder can make things worse.
There are steps you can take to feel better, mental health professionals say. Here’s what they recommend.
Accept that we will need to learn to live with the virus at some level
The highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19 has pushed many public health officials to lean toward living with the virus rather than trying to eradicate it.
Acceptance of reality is a good first step toward coping with the malaise many people are experiencing, says Dr. Wright.
“When you reach the point of acceptance, it opens up different avenues for asking yourself the question, ‘How can I create a life that’s meaningful even during the third year of the pandemic?’ I think that helps counter some of that hopelessness,” she says.
Stay focused on what you can do, rather than trying to predict the course of the virus, says Mr. Kennedy. Try asking yourself, “what is my next move?” rather than “what will be the next variant?” Mr. Kennedy suggests.
Redouble your self-care efforts
Mental health professionals recommend getting outside, giving priority to a healthy amount of sleep, and practicing mindfulness, whether it be by exercising or meditating.
Give priority to quality over quantity when it comes to social connections, says Dr. Wright, which may mean spending more time with a close-knit group of friends and family, and spending less time on screens. Mindlessly scrolling on social media can increase distress and make you feel more alone, says Dr. Wright.
Any steps you can take to relieve stress are helpful. Stress increases inflammation in the body, which can make us more prone to getting sick, says Dr. Wright. And chronic stress can contribute to hypertension, obesity and heart disease, she adds.
Pursue a new hobby
Finding new outlets and new interests can help fight feelings of stagnation, mental health professionals say.
Molly Collier, a 30-year-old actor based in Rahway, N.J., says she normally loves spending time with friends, but lately has struggled to muster the energy for get-togethers, including a friend’s recent birthday celebration. Ms. Collier has found some escape from hourslong Netflix binges by taking on a new skill: making flower arrangements as a part-time job in a local shop.
“That has been creatively fulfilling and distracting and it gives me a place to go and to talk to people,” she says.
Write to Alex Janin at Alex.Janin@wsj.com
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