Remember those brief, blissful weeks at the beginning of the summer? Vaccination rates were rising, COVID-19 infections were dropping and mask mandates were lifting. Lots of us started to cautiously hug our friends, eat in restaurants and plan vacations again. We thought we were seeing the end of the pandemic.
As it turns out, we were wrong. The Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy have combined to launch another surge in COVID-19 infections. And along with that comes another surge in mental health challenges related to the pandemic.
Navaid Khan, MD, a Banner Health psychiatrist, explained what’s different about this latest surge and how we can care for our mental health as this pandemic continues unabated.
Make plans to help ease your uncertainty
“The biggest frustration people are facing now is a lack of knowledge,” Dr. Khan said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.” We don’t know when the pandemic will end. We don’t know if new variants will pose a threat. We don’t know if the people around us are vaccinated. We don’t know whether our kids will stay in the classroom or switch to remote learning.
We don’t know when or if we’ll have to return to working in offices.
Persistent uncertainty can make you not want to plan, since you’re not sure you’ll be able to carry out those plans. But this lack of planning adds to your stress levels. “We need to accept that our new normal may be living in a pandemic,” Dr. Khan said.
He said making plans, with the appropriate safeguards, can help reduce your stress. “Do not postpone things in your life thinking once the pandemic is over, you’ll do them,” he said. “You need to live your life the way it is now and plan things with the proper precautions.”
Having something to look forward to can help alleviate stress and break the monotony of living through the pandemic. He recommends planning travel and vacations as long as you’re vaccinated, while avoiding crowded indoor activities.
Recognize that you might develop compassion fatigue
Frontline workers are prone to compassion fatigue, and these days we’re all at risk for its burnout, detachment and low productivity. That’s because we’re dealing with the never-ending stress of the pandemic. Vaccinated people may find themselves frustrated with unvaccinated people and no longer able to sympathize with people who are sick or even dying.
Talking about your feelings can help you cope with compassion fatigue and regain your sense of empathy. “A lot of people thought that by not discussing it, they would forget it or it would go away,” Dr. Khan said. “That’s not true. The answer is to turn to the people around you. The way to deal with trauma is to talk about it. Emotional fatigue can only go away when you process it.”