COVID Fatigue: COVID's answer to compassion fatigue

COVID fatigue was coined to describe the roller coaster of emotions and symptoms people are experiencing, many of which share similarities to compassion fatigue, as a result of COVID-19.

After a year of the pandemic, people are feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Many are reporting an inability to complete tasks, an increase in irritability, isolation from others, and a decrease in work performance. All of this can be chalked up to COVID fatigue.

For those working in the behavioral health field, you are likely familiar with the term compassion fatigue — COVID fatigue’s famous sister. Compassion fatigue is the result of working directly with victims of trauma and illness. Compassion fatigue causes lower concentration, a numbness or feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and lack of self-satisfaction. There can also be withdrawal, aches and pains, and an inability to go to work. The challenges engendered by the pandemic bring out similar results. Thusly, it is more important than ever that we ensure we are compassionate and supportive towards both ourselves and others. If we are to care for others through the coming months of continued quarantine, it is critical that we are caring for ourselves both physically and mentally. 

The darkest aspect of COVID fatigue is that we are faced with uncertainty about how long the pandemic will continue. This increases our need to be vigilant and to ensure as individuals, teams, and organizations that we are taking care of ourselves both physically and emotionally. The widespread impact of COVID has exacerbated the trauma response for all of us. In order to cope with this, it is important to develop a routine — featuring exercise, wellness, and regular meals — to talk about how your mental health, while partaking in constructive thinking, mindfulness, and gratitude practices. By building a routine and doing our best to stick with the plan, we gain a better sense of self.  

Trauma Matters Newsletter

I wrote about the value of trauma-responsive leadership last summer for a special edition of the Consortium’s publication Trauma Matters. There, I underscored the importance emotional flexibility, writing, “The priority on this list [of trauma-informed pandemic leadership] should be emotional self-regulation. It is crucial that organizational leadership support the emotional and mental wellbeing of their employees by making employees’ ability to self-regulate a top concern.” I stand by this today. We must be able to use every resource available to support ourselves and our employees as we deal with the pitfalls of COVID fatigue.

The intense and prolonged level of stress that we are experiencing is real and our reactions are valid. In listening to the staff at the Consortium, I have heard some of the following: allow yourself some grace and space, develop an attitude of gratitude, allow yourself to be still, accept the moments of relief you experience. Working with the staff to team-build is more important than ever. We continue to strive to utilize the standards of a trauma-informed workplace in the face of COVID fatigue.

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