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Feeling Like a Zombie Lately? It Could be Quarantine Fatigue

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The shelter-in-place directive has breached the six-month mark. Everyone has been staying indoors longer than ever before or more than initially anticipated, and it looks like the quarantine will continue. While keeping safe at home with family and loved ones or working from home and avoiding commuting may seem less taxing, a lot of people are starting to feel tired and exhausted cooped up for months on end. Not the cabin fever type of restlessness but a deeper sense of dissatisfaction or helplessness perhaps. Not the “I had a really long day” kind of tired but the “I’m deeply and inexplicably tired and I don’t know what to do about it” kind.  

Everyone’s concerned, of course, about the pandemic and understand that restrictions are put in place to keep people safe.  But that doesn’t keep many from wishing things would return to normal soon. With no concrete solution in sight and the number of cases continuing to rise — the country is now among the top 20 worldwide with the highest number of COVID-19 cases despite having the world’s longest quarantine – frustration at the current restricted living, anxiety about the future and plain hunger for the old life are fraying at people’s nerves. The previous novelty of using the time at home to learn new things, revive old hobbies or develop new interests is starting to be shattered, and quarantine fatigue is slowly creeping in.

But what is it exactly?

Quarantine fatigue is the physical and mental exhaustion from the isolation, lack of connection and loss of sense of freedom brought about by the pandemic. It’s being emotionally drained from experiencing the same thing every day and feeling restricted and paranoid over possibly catching the virus and infecting others.

The overpowering boredom of staying home all day can amplify one’s already overwhelmed feelings and anxiety about the changes and unpredictability of life, especially regarding health, financial security, and new work schedules and tasks. For adults, the extra demand to juggle work and support other family members – for parents, child care and now, online school — can also add to this feeling of fatigue.

As the pandemic affects people differently, quarantine fatigue also elicits different reactions from people depending on factors such as social support from friends and family — or lack thereof — financial situation and health. It’s important to check on oneself and others. Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Changes in appetite — Many turn to food or alcohol to cope with stressful environments and situations. Eating more or less than usual or drinking more than usual can be one indication of quarantine fatigue. Feeling hunger more frequently, even after just finishing a meal and having unusual cravings are also changes in appetite that can be caused by stress. It’s important to keep a healthy diet as physical health directly affects one’s mental and emotional well-being.
  • Reduced energy, oversleeping — Not finding the time nor having the energy to do the activities one used to enjoy can be another sign of quarantine fatigue. The frustration of not being allowed to go out could result in moping and making other plans but not actually doing something about them. More time than usual is spent sleeping, justifying it by saying there’s not much difference getting up or staying in bed. Simple chores and even fun activities seem physically draining.
  • Withdrawing from others (even in the digital sense) — Some people undergoing quarantine fatigue may tend to pull away from those around them, literally or digitally. They may find it hard to be interested in a conversation or follow the flow of discussions virtually or in person. Some lose the emotional interest or capacity to reply to texts or answer calls. Even virtual game nights with friends that are usually fun and exciting may seem dreadful to them. Group chats are often left on read, if not muted. Even when they still do access their social media feeds, they do not want to connect or interact with anyone.
  • Inability to focus on work or even leisurely activities — Those experiencing quarantine fatigue may think there is a disconnect in having to work and undertake other activities knowing the current state of the world. Having to “function” normally seems like a betrayal and a passive way to address the pandemic, especially considering how other people have their world suddenly stopped with the loss of loved ones. Quarantine fatigued individuals may feel conflicted about whether to follow the news and stay up-to-date on latest developments or focus on work and the tasks at hand. Some, out of panic, end up doing neither.
  • Racing thoughts — Not being able to slow down one’s thought processes and having difficulty focusing on anything else other than one’s own thoughts is another symptom of quarantine fatigue. These relentless thoughts could be about major issues such as one’s financial situation or health, or even as remote as an embarrassing memory from years ago. Either way, being overwhelmed by the repetitive thought patterns could lead to catastrophizing or thinking only of worst-case scenarios and not being able to “shut off” or fully relax during the day or at night, which in turn could sometimes result in insomnia.
  • Irrational thinking — Stressful situations tend to trigger negative and irrational thoughts. These thoughts manifest when one sees only the negative outcome in everything and refuses to see the potential good results. Following unrealistic thinking patterns such as jumping to conclusions and making statements that are not necessarily logic-based is another sign of irrational thinking. Irrational thoughts could be bothersome, demoralizing and annoying. Worse, they could be dangerous when left unchecked.
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Knowing what the abovementioned changes in behavior or thinking might mean in terms of quarantine fatigue and overall health and wellness during this time of crisis could mean a lot in helping oneself and one’s loved ones. Practicing self-care whenever possible through exercising, cooking a meal for yourself and/or family, and meditating is a good start to combating quarantine fatigue. Keeping abreast of news and developments pertaining to the current situation also lessens unnecessary worry and fear about the future. Being intentional with spending a new day productively instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media and doing the same dreadful things as the previous days also helps. Conversing with loved ones, reading uplifting books or listening to music and podcasts can lift one’s spirit. Sometimes, the simple acts of opening windows to let in sunlight and fresh air can already improve one’s mood.   

Recognizing that there’s no one-size, fits-all solution to quarantine fatigue and identifying which one works is important. Adjust to the new normal by finding alternative home-based activities to substitute for prequarantine routines such as workout videos online for lost gym time or online hangout time with friends to replace Friday night outs. Stick to a doable and effective routine every day to avoid listlessness. Lastly, remember that you don’t have to do it alone even in quarantine. Isolation is the enemy of most mental health problems, and people with existing mental conditions such as anxiety and depression may be more vulnerable to quarantine fatigue than others. Reach out to a healthcare professional if the need arises and always listen to what your body tells you.

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