How To Overcome COVID-19 Fatigue

A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Victoria has prompted the state government to lockdown metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire for the next six weeks. The impact on residents in these areas will be significant, challenging their mental health. 

It is a salutary reminder that we are not at a stage where we can go back to living our lives the way we did before the pandemic. Health experts warn there is a long way to go to beat COVID-19, and now is not the time for complacency.

Until an effective COVOD-19 vaccine is developed and made available to the public, there will continue to be immense challenges. The uncertainty surrounding the timeline for a return to normal is giving rise to COVID-19 fatigue.

Like the President of the United States of America, many of us wish the coronavirus would go away. But this is not going to happen, at least in the short term.

Let us consider some of the feelings associated with COVID-19 fatigue and what might have prompted them.

Anger – the sudden disruption to our life; the imposition on our personal freedoms; the sacrifices we are required to make; the way in which our government leaders are handling the crisis.

Despondency – changes in our routine; readjusting to the new normal; boredom; weariness at being caged-in; worn down by the burden of all that is happening; a growing sense of hopelessness.

Depression – losing your job; a breakdown in important relationships; financial difficulties; the absence of new experiences; an uncertain future; insurmountable challenges.

Fear – of economic outcomes; the impact on friends and loved ones; the inability to process the threat; the possibility of testing positive to the coronavirus; of being overtaken by your obsessions.

Grief – recognizing the world has changed forever; no longer feeling in control of our lives; having our plans upended, including career plans, school plans, and plans for housing or travel.

Anxiety – over analysing exchanges on social media; feeling powerless to influence global events; not knowing how to address personal and financial challenges; a sense of foreboding; panic.

One way to address COVID-19 fatigue is to look for inspiration from the insights of people with lived experience.

Marcus Aurelius is one such person. He was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 A.D. He was described as the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, unassuming, a lover of justice, hater of cruelty, sympathetic and kind. Despite his privileges he had a difficult life. Throughout his reign he was involved in a ‘multitude of troubles’ including war, internal treachery and disease.

Marcus Aurelius was a practical philosopher. His journals reflect his appreciation of life.

In the 160s Marcus and his adopted brother and co-emperor Lucius fought against the Parthian empire for control over lands in the East. After a successful campaign, returning soldiers brought some type of disease, possibly smallpox, back with them to Rome. The plague, known as the Antonine Plague, continued until about 180 A.D., ‘killing massively, gruesomely, and in waves,’ with an estimated 2,000 deaths per day in Rome at the height of the outbreak. In 180 A.D. Marcus Aurelius became one of its victims. 

The following sayings of Marcus Aurelius show us how to overcome COVID-19 fatigue.

(1) Positivity:

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

Marcu Aurelius

At the start of a new day our first thoughts are often revelatory, shedding light on the things that have been occupying our mind and possibly weighing us down. It can be helpful to record our first thoughts and what is influencing them.

Our moods reflect the things that occupy our mind. If our thoughts are positive, we are likely to be upbeat. If they are negative, it may result in feelings of agitation or despair.

Marcus Aurelius encourages us to take control of our thinking and to focus on the positives of life. When we are grateful for the opportunities that life offers, the ability to think, to enjoy, to love there is so much to look forward to and to celebrate. We just require a broader perspective towards life.

(2) Readiness:

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it stands ready for what comes and is not thrown by the unforeseen.”   

Marcus Aurelius

Countries around the globe are evaluating their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid spread of the coronavirus caught most of the world unprepared. Consequently, the risk of infection was downplayed, and the advice provided to communities was often confusing and contradictory.

COVID-19 is highly contagious, and it is the undetected cases which are largely responsible for the rapid spread of the disease. The number of confirmed deaths globally stands at 565,000 (the actual death toll is likely to be higher)

Marcus Aurelius emphasises the importance of being ready for anything life brings our way. He uses the analogy of wrestling, a combat sport. To be a successful wrestler requires more than physical strength. It is knowing what you are up against (challenge) and knowing what you are capable of (skills). Readiness in wrestling is the ability to sum up your opponent and to use your strengths to maximum effect. Life is no different. Preparation is the key.

(3) Focus:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.”

Marcus Aurelius

COVID-19 has disrupted our working life and challenged our routines. It is difficult to maintain focus when facing changed circumstances. There are choices but it can be confusing to know what to prioritise. Should I be using this time to strengthen my relationships; to improve my fitness levels; to develop new skills; to plan an alternative career? Often, we feel overwhelmed and opt to do nothing, expect, perhaps, indulging our senses.

Marcus Aurelius advises that when we are feeling uncertain and struggling to maintain our focus, look up. Allow the starry night to be your inspiration. It is in the vastness of the heavens that we encounter beauty and mystery and timelessness. When we look up, we are given permission to dream.

(4) Happiness:

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius

It has been said, ‘You are what you think.’ Our thoughts impact our moods and shifting emotions. They determine our behaviour and influence our self-confidence. How we think can have a negative and lasting impact on our lives.  

Authors and psychologists agree that ‘Happiness is an inside job.’ It is not dependent on external events. We do not have to be enjoying a pleasurable moment to be happy. It may come as a shock, but we can be happy in lockdown.

The path to happiness is accepting the present moment for what it is. It is regulating our thinking. It is deciding whether to view life events from a positive or negative lens.

Focus on the moment at hand; accept whatever you cannot control; react accordingly and be grateful.

(5) Community:

“We are born for community.”     

Marcus Aurelius

During COVID-19 many of the communities that sustain us and give us meaning – churches, gyms, choirs, book clubs, sporting groups – have been lost to us. There may have been some contact, but the face-to-face interactions have been reduced to video conferencing like Zoom. Using these formats to stay connected has some benefit but we need the physical interaction.

People are social animals and benefit from being part of something. We need that feeling of belonging, of being valued and loved. This can be a challenge when faced with social distancing restrictions. 

Marcus Aurelius affirms the need for a healthy level of social and civic participation. He would argue that all things are interconnected.

(6) Purpose:

“Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.”

Marcus Aurelius

We each have a purpose; something we were created for. It is our duty to carry out that purpose. Whatever your purpose, it should serve the common interest somehow.

COVID-19 provides us with a unique opportunity to figure out what matters, and it is not always about you. Like Marcus Aurelius your purpose might be to determine how you can improve the wellbeing of others. For it is in serving we find our true delight.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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