“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27).
There is a very real danger of you and I experiencing “Pandemic Fatigue,” if we fail to take care of ourselves.
In this article I will show you how to overcome the fear of pandemic fatigue
This week marks the second round of deep restrictions in New Mexico, and people are weary.
Restaurants will only provide curb service, and most stores and shops will have to close. Only essential businesses will remain open, and gatherings are five people, while churches are limited to 25%.
As the months wear on, many people feel the worsening stress or exhaustion that comes with continually following safety guidelines, wearing masks, and significantly distancing friends and family members, sometimes growing lax in their efforts. “Pandemic fatigue” refers to the emotional and mental toll that COVID-19 has taken over the last nine months, even for people whose physical health has not been affected.
Like other kinds of confinement and isolation, the past nine months that people have spent social-distancing and quarantining can lead to interpersonal conflicts and depression.
For some people, it affects their mood profoundly,
What Is Pandemic Fatigue?
Like any stressor, COVID-19 causes our bodies to respond with what is known as the fight-or-flight response (which, despite the name is four possible responses):
Fight (resist the threat)
Flight (evade the threat)
Freeze (become paralyzed in the face of the threat)
Faun (give in to the threat)
Most stresses are not supposed to be long-term or permanent. The stressor triggers our fight-or-flight response, and then we use a variety of coping skills to calm ourselves down when the stressor is over. But COVID-19 is not giving us that break. We’re just not prepared to handle the stress that goes on this long. As a result, we’re increasingly freezing or fawning, which often manifests as COVID fatigue.[i]
So, the reality is that we have to lean into the practices that will help us get through these challenging times. And we as Americans will do just that!
We survived the 1918 Flu epidemic following WWI; our parents and grandparents survived the depression. My generation got through the Atomic Age. Remember those ridiculous drills of what to do if “the bomb” detonates near you? We got through that!
Like you, I am tired of the restrictions, but I will copy, and we will get through this.
We will look back on this Holiday Season as an unforgettable part of our lives. In the meantime, we need to be vigilant.
In the past week, I have had four friends across the country come down with COVID-19, and one dies from it.
Here are some things we can do.
Over the weekend, the Surgeon General reminded us of the 3 W’s. “The three W’s are most important if you do come together around other people: wear a mask, wash your hands and frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, and watch your distance from other people,” Adams says. “And if you can’t do these things in this environment where you’re planning on coming together, then you should probably stay home because, again, this virus is incredibly unforgiving. “There is a distinct difference between fear, panic, and awareness. With that awareness comes responsibility, honest respect for the scale of the problem, and a desire to do what a person can do as an individual to lower its spread.
One can be aware of COVID-19, aware of what needs to be done to minimize its spread-and we should do those things. The danger is that we can make the situation worse with the negative energy that comes from fear. Left unattended, fear, which leads to panic, can be deceptive and even deadly. Panic is nothing more than fear on steroids. When one is in a panic mode, one of the first things to disappear is sanity!
Since the COVID-19 appeared on the world’s stage, it has become almost omnipresent. We have been mesmerized by its spread, divided by how to respond to it.
Could we have become so obsessed with COVID-19 that we have diminished our resilience as individuals and as a nation? I believe the jury is still out on this topic.
Anyway, between the news, all of the conspiracy theories, and the politicization of wearing a mask, I think we need a shift in focus.
Proverbs 23:7 reminds us, “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
There is a puzzle here regarding human behavior. While people are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves, they remain stuck.
Maybe it is time to shift our mental gears. Perhaps we need to move away from the negative energy-zapping fear of this worldwide epidemic. Perhaps it is time to use the mental and spiritual antibodies of faith and personal resilience to inoculate ourselves and develop courage, hope, good health, and do what we can to lower our risk and at least arrest its growth. Fear brings out the worst in us. Being resilient and having a sense of hope, inner strength, and courage will help us have the stamina both as individuals and as a country to fight this virus.
The correct mindset is so important as we experience this tough year as COVID-19 continues to take its toll.
I believe that we will survive this current pandemic in my heart, but we will be judged on how we survived it by what we will become after it subsides? As individuals and as a nation, we will either be uplifted by our response, or we will be damaged by how we failed to face the challenge with courage, grit, and a sense of “us against COVID-19!” How you and I handle a crisis will determine how we will live our lives. Will you live with regret or use your courage, faith, and resilience to come out on the other side of this as a healthier, more caring person.
One of the things I always say in my Spiritual First Aid Class is, “A crisis is always a turning point, a dangerous opportunity. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what fear can do to us and how we can push it back.
Fear serves one—and only one—purpose: to keep you alive. In its most basic, primal form, it is nothing more than a survival response. Fear can be a good thing. It is a profound biological instinct that can prevent us from doing crazy things that could kill us. For example, if you are working in your backyard and see a snake slithering into hedges next to your house—well, let’s put it this way—I doubt you are feeling peaceful and calm.
Fear can produce positive energy that moves us forward, help us make a life change, and give us a new perspective. Unfortunately, while fear can protect us from pain and harm, fear is not always rational and healthy.
God did not create us to live our lives in fear. He created us to live with power, love, and a sound mind.
I love the way the Amplified Bible translates 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, craven and clinging, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and love and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” The Greek word for this is sophrone, which does mean well-balanced, sober, and self-controlled. The word’s root is phren, which relates to the diaphragm, which helps regulate physical life by controlling breathing and assisting in blood flow.
Let’s look at what fear does to us and in us:
First, irrational fear is a very primal gut function. It is an essential low-level brain function. While fear can become disarming and lead to self-inflicted sabotage, it can be overcome. When we take time to think through our fears, we usually discover that those concerns are rooted in irrational thoughts.
Second, fear can make us cowards. We humans tend to frame our concerns in ways that soothe our egos. You and I will say something like, “I am prudent and cautious.” We might even say, “I am a little nervous.” Or we say, “It’s not that important.”
Here is an important life tip:
If you want to start overcoming those irrational fears that keep you bound, you will have to call it what it is.
Instead of saying, “I am not doing this because it makes me nervous,” try saying, “I am not going to do this because I am a coward, and I am scared spitless.” You will be amazed when you tell yourself the truth—aloud. Integrity is the beginning of calling it what it is. Trust me—this is a starting point.
Third, fear steals our integrity. It makes us hypocritical. Simply stated, integrity means acting in a way wholly congruent with our values and beliefs. When we want to do something and believe it is the correct thing to do, we fail to do it because of fear. We violate our core values. Living a “True North” life means living in alignment with our principles.
The first time I heard the term “True North” versus ‘Magnetic North” was while I was in the Army. It is a term used in map and compass training which differentiates the True North from Magnetic North difference on a topographical map. Steven Covey borrowed this term and turned it into a metaphor about our bottom line personal ethics—the line we are unwilling to cross based on those ethics. Therefore, when you and I are faced, as we often are in this challenging life, we need to refer to our true north for guidance regarding what direction to take. Metaphorically: Do I “cross” my line? (Lie, cheat, steal, be disloyal to a loved one, hit or be abusive physically or verbally, etc.). Never lose sight of your true north.
Fourth, fear leaves lament and regret in its wake. You and I have made and will continue to make missteps and mistakes. The key is: Will we repeat the same screw-ups again and again, or will we learn from them and make the necessary adjustments to change the outcome? If you and I allow fear to keep us from seizing an opportunity when it comes our way, then that is nobody’s fault but our own. As people of faith, we need to acknowledge the Lord’s presence even in scary times. If we don’t, things will get worse.
Fifth, when we give in to fear, we give up control; we step away from the steering wheel, which could be deadly. You see—the Lord has given us life and choices. While He will guide us, He will not do the work for us. When we are ruled by fear, we abdicate our responsibility. It is not a good thing. You are the only one responsible for your life, no one else. At the end of this race, you and I will give an account. I want to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:23 NLT
Sixth, fear stifles personal growth. There seems to be a universal principle in nature: You are either getting better—ripening, or you are ripe and ready to meet your full potential, or you are rotting.
So, let me ask you a question. Are you ripening, ready to pick, or rotting on the vine?
Today, you have a choice. You can choose to stay stuck, or you can choose to move forward.
So, what do we do with fear? We name it and face it. We take courageous steps to manage it.
As much as I hate to admit it, COVID-19 is going to be around for a while. While I refuse to fear it, I will respect what it can do. As a result, I will choose to do what I can do to care for myself and lower the risk for others by washing my hands, watching my personal space, wearing a mask, and limiting my movement.
Liz Riggs shares a great insight in her article “A Prayer for the Anxiety-Riddled Christian.” With the alarming resurgence of the past couple of weeks, I go back to the quote by Tom Hanks, “There is a darkness on the edge of town, and it’s killing people, so let’s pull together and defeat it.”
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4: 7-9).
I read this passage in times of extreme anxiety. When a turbulent flight has turned me into a puddle of panic or a television show has tricked me into believing that I have a deadly disease, I deal with my anxiety by thinking that someone is there to guard my heart and mind. It’s the only way.[ii]
I am so thankful for her suggestions. And she is spot on when she talks about how many of us take comfort in Philippians 4:4-6. I also sincerely appreciate her reminding all of us to manage our thought life more effectively.
The key is to acknowledge the fear and anxiety, but then the Apostle Paul’s language shifts to a more directive tone when he commands us to “think continually on these things [center your mind on them and implant them in your heart]. To quote the entire section of this important psychological and biblical principle. “Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. Philippians 4:8 AMP
If you need a little help, click this link for a short article: Recapture Your Vision: Push Back Depression and Negative Thinking.
You might also want to purchase my book: Get a Grip on Depression. It has some practical, faith-friendly tools and lessons on how to manage your thought life.
If you need to talk, I offer both in-person and virtual counseling/work-life sessions. To start that process, either email me or call 505-343-2011 and leave me a voicemail.