Pandemic Fatigue


Student studying in the library with a superman sticker on his laptop and a tired look on his face
UNC undergraduate student Eli Grossman studies in Davis Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. November 19, 2020. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Life during a pandemic means making analyzing risks and benefits over and over again. It’s exhausting. We are constantly adapting to new policies and situations. Grocery shopping, going to class, chatting with your neighbors, traveling – they all require more thought and behavior monitoring than ever before. These mental efforts have costs. Plus as college students, we have a brief window to experience college life, a year of which has already been disrupted. Our ideas of how life at UNC should look are vastly different than the reality has been this past year.

There are plenty of systemic issues around the pandemic and life at UNC that should be addressed. Healthy Heels is one of the entities working amongst students, faculty, staff, and public health experts to improve the way UNC is navigating during the pandemic. You can help by advocating too!

In addition to those changes, we all have areas in our personal life that we can control that can help with pandemic fatigue.

Do things – just do them differently.

Students chat while sitting on the low stone walls of Polk Place on February 24, 2021, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Continue to follow preventative measures while still finding ways to live your lives. We are out of the “do not” phase of the pandemic at this point; now we are at “do differently.” Use the general COVID guidelines and creativity to find ways to make things fun and keep them safer. Mainly you want to reduce the amount of shared air between you and people outside your household. Key points are to:

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth and/or keep your distance from other people
  • Find fresh air (ideally outdoors, otherwise well-ventilated indoor)
  • Limit the number of people
  • Reduce the length of time
  • Seek a vaccine when you’re eligible

Most of us recognize the considerations for COVID at this point of the pandemic. So the question becomes how to live life while taking those into account. Anything you can do to move interactions outside and limit the number of people will help!

  • OUTDOOR SPACES: Consider ways to find or improve outdoor areas that are comfortable for socializing in varied weather. Think about porches, decks, parks, gardens, river/lakeshores, trails, or natural areas. Remember that masks are required outside on campus whenever you are closer than 6 feet to someone.
  • CREATIVE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES: Think of fun ways to enjoy your time outside together! Some ideas: hike, walk, disc golf, hang at a park, stargaze, bike, host a bonfire, boat, float, or go to an outdoor movie.
  • DATING: If you choose to date, be intentional! Find ways to get to know someone before meeting in person – including their COVID risks. When you start dating someone in real life, their risks will become your risks. If you don’t know if your date is seeing other people, assume they are. For the in-person dates, the same basic concepts apply – outdoors is better than indoors; masked is better than unmasked; fewer people is better than more people.
  • EATING/DRINKING: Eating or drinking around people you don’t live with adds risk because of the need to remove your mask to consume food and beverages. As above, the same basic concepts apply – outdoors is better than indoors; masked is better than unmasked; fewer people is better than more people. Find places to eat and drink where it’s just you and your friend(s) instead of being exposed to more of the community. Host a backyard picnic. Remember that alcohol or drugs consumed may impact your ability to make good choices for COVID prevention and otherwise, so opt out of substances or use them in a way or environment that ensures your and your community’s safety.
  • INDOOR EVENTS: Avoid them if you can! But if you do attend, wear a well-fitting, double-layered mask and do your best to ensure others will be masked as well. Keep your distance. Further guidance for indoor events available at the CDC.

Support your own mental health.

  • Find ways to stay connected with people who make you feel safe and supported.
  • Find hope. Remember that the decisions you make now will make you more resilient and stronger when the pandemic is over.
  • Practice positivity. We are doing the best we can under difficult circumstances. There are so many things to be grateful for! Try to find time each day to express that gratitude – whether over a meal with a roommate or in a gratitude journal.
  • Focus on what you can control. Determine what things add the most stress and set some healthy boundaries around them. Create a schedule or routine where you get 30 minutes just for you – every day. Focus on one or two things a day that you can accomplish for your wellbeing; these small things over time add up.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Be gentle with yourself; be gentle with your people. Pandemic life is hard, and hitting a wall is a very normal response to very abnormal circumstances.

A mental health professional can help support you in finding specific strategies that will work with your life. UNC students have free access to CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658.

You’re doing good things.

Know that every choice you make that helps reduce COVID-19 transmission risk helps our community stay safer and healthier. Most of us didn’t regularly wear facial coverings a year ago. Many of us didn’t understand the term “social distancing.” Once we understood these strategies reduced the likelihood of COVID-19 spread, many of us implemented them. We wear masks, keep our distance from each other and limit contact with people outside of our household. A big ol’ THANK YOU for all the ways you have shifted your daily life to support a healthier community.

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