Children, like everyone, are missing their friends, hobbies and routines. That makes it all the harder to stick to
Most of my clients are teenagers and are not yet back in school. I’ve really noticed that they are tired these days. Weary might be an even better word to describe how they are feeling. When we’ve drilled into it a bit, they often talk of being just sick of restrictions, of not seeing friends, of not being able to get away from their families like they used to. They speak of missing sports, missing actually being in school, missing friends and being generally fed up. Many of them feel that sticking with all the pandemic restrictions and rules is just too much. Or, as one of my clients succinctly put it recently, “I’m so over Covid.”
You may find that you or your own children are similarly fatigued. Often it isn’t a physical tiredness, but is a complex experience of mental exhaustion, loss of motivation and a struggle to hold onto hope.
Pandemic Fatigue is this drop in the motivation required to stick with the necessary behaviours to keep ourselves and others safe, as described by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO recognise that the psychology behind this fatigue is critical to the success of global efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Here in Ireland, it does feel like we are creaking and groaning through the last couple of weeks in particular. All of the effort we have spent coping with the complexity of working from home, or educating our children at home, or restricting our movements and not seeing loved ones may feel like it has been exhausted, and we still don’t know when the finish line will appear. Most of us probably don’t even know what the finish line will look like.
One of the factors involved in Pandemic Fatigue is to do with how humans tend to look at a challenge. Particularly when we take on what we expect to be a long process, we begin by “counting up”, noticing the steps, or the small achievements that mark progress, allowing that sense of accomplishment to accumulate. At some point we pass the halfway mark. We have euphemisms like “breaking the back of it” to denote that sense of the inevitable turn towards the finishing straight. From that point we start “counting down” to the finish. The difficulty with the pandemic is that we have no idea when the end point will be reached and so many of us are at the stage of counting down only to discover that more has been added and we have nothing in reserve to meet the extra demands.
I think that was why there was a nationwide groan when Dr Ronan Glynn commented last week “if every individual can do just that little bit more over the next few weeks, we will stop another wave…”. Many people are at their limit and feel that they can do no more.
You may find that part of your kids’ struggle is that they see others not adhering to the restrictions and social gathering rules. That compounds the sense of frustration and fatigue that they might feel. While you may feel like criticising the behaviour of others, it is important to acknowledge that you can only be responsible for yourself and your family, and that might allow you to keep going.
The key to sustaining yourself and your children for the duration of the pandemic, is to stop looking back at all the things you or they have lost or missed out on. While you can acknowledge the pressures and the stresses of lost work or lost education, or opportunities to meet friends or family, there is little motivation to be found in dwelling on it.
Equally, there is no added benefit to looking too far to the future either. You may have already planned a staycation break over the summer, and it is possible that you will get to enjoy it. However, spending lots of time fantasising with your children about the things you will do on that holiday may prove counterproductive, should the landscape have shifted again by the summer. Best to leave the holiday in the back pocket, but focus instead on something that will feel rewarding in the next four weeks (rather than in the next four months).
Having short-term goals for yourself and your children will allow you to feel rewarded for doing the right thing. For example, after struggling with online schooling for months, teenagers might need the Easter holidays to sleep in, with all the usual structure of their day thrown out. Can you reward yourself with time off work to similarly just stop and breathe? Maybe the Easter break is the opportunity to carve out some “me” time and space after months of supporting everyone at home.
Pandemic Fatigue is a real thing. We all have to find our own way to sustain the motivation to keep on keeping safe. As a friend of mine, who was invited to a garden gathering on Paddy’s Day, said to me, “I told them I’d pass. I like sitting on my high horse too much, it’s the only thing I have left”.