Crisis Fatigue Is Real – Coping With Stress in 2021
Reflection on the past and resolutions for the future are common topics of conversation during early January. Most new year’s resolutions focus on personal health and well-being and with such a tumultuous ending to 2020 and an equally challenging start to 2021, it is likely that physical, mental, and emotional health will be an even higher priority this year.
I think we can agree that most of us are physically tired and emotionally overwhelmed by all the events that took place in 2020. Even after a holiday break, many people are still experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. “Most of us are equipped to manage one crisis or maybe a couple of crises simultaneously, but when everything is sort of coming to a head all at once, there comes a point where our typical means of coping becomes overwhelmed and the result is crisis fatigue”, explains Arianna Galligher, associate director of Ohio State University’s Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program. Crisis fatigue can create feelings of tiredness, disgust, desperation, rage, anxiety and grief all at the same time.
In the beginning of the pandemic we thought the crisis would be short-lived and meeting virtually with friends and co-workers was a nice change of routine. But Zoom parties and GoToMeetings quickly fell out of favor. Karestan Koenen, PhD, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who studies the mental health fallout of disasters, says “this crisis is different from disasters such as a hurricane or terrorist attack. With those events, it’s very severe initially and then there’s sort of a linear improvement as affected communities recover. But with the coronavirus, there’s no recovery yet. We’re still in it.”
When stress is short term, it’s easier to cope, but when stress crosses over into chronic crisis, it is more difficult to access the energy reserves and coping mechanisms we need. Maru Gonzalez, Professor and Extension Specialist in Agricultural & Human Sciences at NC State University reminds us of the stress formula: Life’s DEMANDS + available RESOURCES = your RESPONSE to stress. In other words, when the demands in life override the resources you have to deal with them, you become stressed. Stress that is not controlled or managed over time becomes chronic stress.
So what can you do? Here are some tips gathered from Professor Gonzalez and Drs. Koenen and Galligher for combating crisis fatigue or chronic stress:
Change the stressor. Think about the things that cause your stress. Then think about if and how those stressors could be avoided. Can you avoid or reduce spending time around negative or difficult people? Can you multi-task less often so you can concentrate more? Can you say “no” to unnecessary commitments? While giving support and helping other people is noble, especially in troubled times, it can come at a cost if you expend all your energy on everyone except yourself.
Change the way you react to the stressor. Putting a positive spin on a situation or focusing on the silver lining changes our perspective. Practice seeing the bright side of things, find humor in tough situations, develop an attitude of gratitude, and adjust your expectations. In the current state of affairs, each of us are engaging in important conversations, sometimes with people who disagree with us, which can lead to uncomfortable confrontations. You can’t control how others behave, but you can control your own actions.
Review your resources. Consider the resources you can call upon to help you deal with stress. Most of us have confronted crises in our lives and can draw on the personal strengths that helped us cope in the past. You can also seek support from others by talking to someone you trust about how stress is affecting you. Don’t consider your crisis fatigue as something abnormal. Strong emotions in the midst of prolonged stress is a common and understandable reaction.
Practice stress-reducing behaviors. Eating healthy foods and getting enough rest and physical activity each day is essential to combatting stress. Equally important is your attitude, self-talk, and self-care. Spend your energy intentionally on the things that are most important in your life. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, choose the activities that are most rewarding. Simplify your life as much as possible and actively decide to find joy. Unplug from TV and other media, especially right before bedtime. When you feel stressed, take time for a distraction such as a walk outside or a favorite song. Take notice of the little things that bring lightness, calm, and humor to your day.