Pandemic Fatigue and Mental Health

I haven’t been keeping up with the posting schedule that I set for myself. In fact, I haven’t been doing much of anything for the past few weeks. I’ve been pretty down, and quite lethargic. I had thought that I’d adapted well to living through a pandemic – I even got married during it – but as time goes on, COVID has worn on me more and more. I want to go to a restaurant and watch a movie in theaters. I want to sip hot chocolate at my favorite café and have friends visit. But I can’t do any of those things.

I, like a lot of people, have been experiencing pandemic fatigue. Some days I fight against depression, or my already high levels of anxiety are peaked. As the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, I can feel my life and my emotional health erode around me. I feel so isolated and frustrated.

I know I’m not alone in this. Instead of my usual book-related post, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to help share some mental health tips and resources with you here.

Before I do, I want to say that I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, but I am not a licensed therapist, doctor, or medical professional of any kind. I have done my best to vet the information and resources here, but I cannot provide actual medical advice. There will also be links throughout this post, but none of them are sponsored. Lastly, most of my resources will be based in the United States, as that’s where I live and have the most information about.

I’ll be putting many links from the section about finding therapy in the resources page. That way you won’t need to scroll through a long post if there’s something you’d like to check out later on.

Now, let’s try to work some of the pandemic blues away. I’ll talk about therapy a little later on, but here are some methods you can try on your own.

Acknowledge what you’re feeling, and feel it. When I last talked to my therapist (more on that later), we talked about pandemic fatigue, and how it was affecting me. She spoke about the pandemic fatigue that she’s seen in other people, and told me that everyone’s experience was unique to them. There’s no singular way people are reacting to the pandemic, and everyone’s mental health needs will be different. My advice is: give yourself a break. You can’t command yourself to stop being sad, or anxious, or however you’re feeling. But don’t beat yourself up, or feel guilty. We are living through hard times, which none of us would have ever imagined two years ago. Give yourself a little time to just feel whatever it is you need to – anger, sorrow, fear – and keep going forward.

Exercise. Get up off the couch! Study after study has proven benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. It’s shown to be effective in mitigating symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lowering stress levels. In the immortal words of Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” For a more professional take, here are a few articles with more detailed information:

Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms – Mayo Clinic
The exercise effect – American Psychological Association
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise – HelpGuide

Journal. I’m not saying this only because I’m a writer, but because there are many proven mental health benefits to writing, and journaling in particular. Maybe you have days where it feels like the world is spinning around you, and you can’t quite get a grip on anything. Or maybe you’re anxious or sad or angry, but you’re not really sure why. When you journal, you turn the chaos around you into a narrative, helping to make sense of seemingly random events. As you write, you may also find you have better clarity over what’s causing you to be stressed out or upset. Or maybe you just need to vent somewhere; a journal is the perfect place to do that.

If starting a journal sounds intimidating, remember you don’t need to share what you write in there with anyone else. Don’t worry if it’s not pretty or well-written. Write whatever comes to mind, say whatever it is you need to say. You’re writing for yourself, not anyone else. There are also many guided journals available, which provide you with prompts to reflect on and write about.

Journaling for Mental Health – University of Rochester
Take Note – Northwestern Medicine
Reasons Why You Should Start Journaling – BBC
Writing Tips that Can Reduce Symptoms – NAMI

Get yourself some therapy.

This is it. This is the big one. Therapy and mental health are still, unfortunately, stigmatized by many people. Mental health isn’t always easy or comfortable to talk about, and it can be hard to find help because of that. It can also be hard to admit that you might need therapy. Speaking from my own personal experience, sometimes going into therapy felt like I had failed myself. I worked so hard to keep my mental health issues under control and under wraps, and was frustrated and dejected because that control was slipping. In most of those cases, though, external factors were threatening to overwhelm me, and strained my mental well-being. Realizing this, therapy became a mental “tune-up” for me, in the same way your car might need a tune up from time to time.

Here’s how I try to look at it now: if you get injured – maybe you’ve torn a muscle or broken a leg – you would go see a doctor. Your doctor has the expertise that you lack to help patch you up and help you recover. If you think of your mind as a muscle, it only makes sense that you would see another professional to help you heal from whatever illness or injuries might be ailing you.

If you think it’s time to try therapy, it can be hard to know where to start looking for a therapist. One of the most common ways that people find therapists is through word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends or family. If you’re willing, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.

If you’re a student, most high schools and universities have counselors and counseling centers, where you can go to seek help for mental health. Check your school’s website or student handbook for more information.

If you’re employed in the U.S., many companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides free short-term counseling to employees (and typically their families as well). The details of using an EAP will vary between companies, but in general, they provide 2-3 counseling sessions. If that’s all you need, great! If not, many will provide referrals for continuing therapy.

With few exceptions (I’ll talk more about confidentiality in a bit), whatever you say in your counseling sessions is private. In most cases, your boss doesn’t ever need to know that you’re using an EAP. Your counselor cannot disclose any information to anyone else without written consent from you, unless they are court ordered to do so, or to protect yourself or another person from harm.

EAPs do work a bit differently in terms of confidentiality when the employee is mandated to attend counseling by an employer. The employer may receive information about the employee’s attendance, compliance, recommendations from the counselor, and notice of completing treatment. In this case, the employee still must give written permission to share this information, but the employer will be receiving feedback.

Your insurance provider can be another way to find a therapist. Look to see if there are any therapists “in-network” that you can get an appointment with.

I also want to acknowledge that there’s an extra layer of challenge in finding a therapist if you’re a person of color and/or if you’re a LGBTQAI+ individual. This article from Healthline lists several resources for BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ people to find therapists, as support networks, and organizations for financial assistance for therapy.

How To Find And Fund Therapy as a BIPOC – Healthline

This takes us into another common reason why people don’t seek therapy: the cost.

Therapy can get expensive, and even if your insurance does cover it, they might not cover all the costs entirely. There are other options, though, that can make therapy more affordable.

First, there’s the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: https://www.nami.org/help (1-800-950-NAMI). The Helpline is not therapy, but can provide support, coping strategies, and referrals and resources for mental health needs.

You can also look for mental health services provided by your local government. Check your county’s website, or your county’s health department’s website. You can usually find a link to the county’s mental health center, which should offer some form of counseling or therapy.

If you live near a university, you can also see if the university offers a clinic you could take advantage of. Universities which offer advanced degrees in clinical psychology typically run mental health clinics for the public. Student psychologists, under the supervision their instructors, work in these clinics to gain experience working as therapists. These services are typically provided for low or no cost.

Online therapy may also be an option. The prices range between services, they are often cheaper than traditional in-person therapy (even though that’s being done remotely now, too).

I also found a few articles that list a few other options I haven’t mentioned here.

Mental Health Services: How to Get Treatment if You Can’t Afford It – NBC
Therapy for Every Budget: How to Access It – Healthline
Low Cost Treatment – Anxiety & Depression Association of America
Strategies to Afford Mental Health Treatment – NAMI

If you’re just starting therapy, or are thinking about therapy and are a little apprehensive about it all, there’s just a few I want you to know, to hopefully make your journey smoother.

Confidentiality is key when it comes to therapy. There are only a few special circumstances when a therapist will break confidentiality.

These special circumstances are:

  • The client is an imminent danger to themselves and/or others
  • The therapist suspects abuse
  • The therapist has received a subpoena to share information on the client
  • The client gives the therapist permission to share information.

Everything else stays between you and your therapist. You can say whatever you need to.

When you start therapy, you might have to do something called an “intake interview”. Your therapist will ask about your background, why you’re starting therapy, and probably more questions based on your reason for being there. These questions aren’t meant to make you feel judged, but to help tailor therapy to your needs.

To be totally honest: the intake interview is uncomfortable. It can feel awkward and be really hard to get through. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: most therapists hate conducting them, too. They find it just as awkward as you do.

There’s another thing you need to know about therapy: it takes time. Therapy is not a magic pill that you can swallow and make things better after you finish a session. It’s work, and you may not feel the positive effects right away. In fact, it’s not uncommon to feel more down immediately following a therapy session than when you started. In therapy, there’s usually a lot of raw emotion that you have to deal with, and your therapist is there to guide you and help you process it in a healthy way. It can get pretty intense and be hard. But if you keep working on your mental health, you will have better coping skills and thinking patterns, and you will feel better.

Okay, so what if you’ve found your therapist, you’ve sat through the intake, but you and your therapist just aren’t meshing? Rapport does take time to build, but maybe your personalities are just too different, or maybe you need help in an area that your therapist doesn’t have much experience in. In this case, you may be referred to another therapist. Being referred to another therapist doesn’t mean that you were a bad client. It just means that there is someone else who would be better able to help you. At my college’s health center, I did one session with a male counselor. After that session, we both agreed that I would make more progress if I talked to one of the female counselors instead. I didn’t dislike the male counselor, but we both understood that it would be better for me to talk to another woman. Referrals are okay, and you don’t need to be worried if you’re referred to someone else.

We’ve all been very concerned with physical health for the past year, but please, don’t neglect your mental health. I hope you found something useful in this post. Remember that you are valued and loved. Take care of and be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

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