How to live with pandemic fatigue

COVID-19 will eventually end. Doctors share ideas on how to cope.

Diana Duong 4 minute read November 27, 2020
Pandemic fatigue

Polling suggests that while Canadians support COVID-19 restrictions, many of us are getting tired of them. Getty

  • Even though case numbers feel out of control, focus on what you can control
  • Reflect on what you have and feel appreciation for your work and routine
  • Set boundaries for daily tasks

By now, everyone knows the drill. Stay physically distanced, avoid crowds, and wear a mask. Canada is rounding out its eighth month since the pandemic was officially declared and yet case numbers are higher than ever. Alberta has declared a public health emergency and some regions in Ontario have just re-entered a 28-day lockdown. A new poll from Ipsos suggests that, while most Canadians support restrictions and shutdowns to stop the spread of the virus, many of us are getting tired. About 48 per cent of those surveyed are fed up with masks and distancing efforts.

While the average person on the street may be feeling some degree of irritation over COVID-19 protocols, fatigue is also starting to set in for the experts who have been talking about how to reduce transmission for months on end.

Toronto-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Anna Banerji has done at least 350 interviews since COVID-19 began. As faculty lead of Indigenous and Refugee Health at the University of Toronto, Banerji got COVID-19 in the first week of March, before widespread PPE use and before community transmission had started in Canada. She met a refugee child from Africa who had travelled through Europe and developed a fever. Banerji also developed a fever, but was unsure what caused it at first.

“All of these pandemics come, peak, and go away. I’m hopeful that after this winter, it’s going to start declining,” says Banerji.

“[COVID-19] might get worse. But eventually at a certain point, it’s going to go down again.”

Hopes of a successful vaccine and her work keeps Banerji moving forward.

“I find meaning in the work I do. I have an appreciation for the fact that I have a job — the simple things. I lost my son, but I have my daughter. I still have parents around and I have a home and I have stability in my life and can afford to pay my bills. I contrast that to people who know may work or run in a restaurant and or in a gym who have been trying to make ends meet, and their dream work is devastated.”

“By being appreciative of what I have and taking pause and looking at what I have makes you grateful,” she says. “I’ve had tremendous loss in my life, and that gives you a very different perspective on life.”

For Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family doctor in Burlington, Ont., setting boundaries has been vital to prioritizing her mental wellbeing. Kwan has lost track of how many interviews she’s done for print, TV, radio, podcasts, and documentaries after reaching 70. But she’s limited her media requests now to those most useful and stopped doing TV interviews. She notices whenever there are increases in cases or a spike in discussions on masks, she usually gets more requests.

From creating daily COVID-19 graphs to advocacy work, Kwan is working from the moment she wakes up to the time she sleeps. Infection control protocol at her medical practice is constantly changing, with proper PPE supply and adapting to partial virtual care on top of in-person care.

“My priority is the health of my family, friends, and patients. I also cope by ordering lots of takeout which also helps to support local businesses,” says Kwan.

The rising numbers of daily cases are difficult for many people because things are starting to feel out of control, she says.

“Regardless of the numbers going up and down, we can focus on what we can control, including limiting our personal risk by avoiding high-risk settings if possible, distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands, and caring for others,” says Kwan.

“We have to be adaptable to the constantly changing situation and know that there is no quick and easy solution. COVID-19 will eventually end, and we will get back to normalcy. We’re just not sure when,” says Kwan. “Hopefully our present sacrifices will help things will get under control sooner so we can get back to seeing our loved ones and travelling safely, without constant worries of the pandemic over our heads.”

Banerji has the same outlook. She recommends looking beyond these next few months and thinking of the future ahead.

“I believe that things will get better,” says Banerji. “It’s not like this is something where there’s no end. It’s coming soon. Probably after this winter, things will start getting better.”


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