How to Keep Going When You’ve Hit the Pandemic Wall
The texts started lighting up my phone a couple of weeks ago: “I’m running on empty,” said a friend. Okay, all my friends. And it wasn’t just us; Tanzina Vega, host of NPR’s The Takeaway, tweeted a similar sentiment.
Her tweet went so viral that she expanded it into a radio segment. In it, Dr. Suzan Song, director of the division of child, adolescent, and family psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, explains why so many of us feel so uniquely and entirely burned out. It’s not just pandemic fatigue; it’s a feeling of total exhaustion and overwhelmedness. We can’t focus, we can’t relax, and we can’t see the end in sight. It’s what Song calls a “collective demoralization.”
Song borrows a metaphor from Dr. Dike Drummond when she describes burnout as being overdrawn in your energy bank account. “At the bank, if you overdraw your account, they don’t close your account. They charge you fines and interest. So you actually accelerate your downward spiral when you go below zero.” She notes that the pandemic, politics, and general overwhelmingness of the world right now have many people feeling like they have no emotional reserves left.
So what is there to do? What can we put in our pandemic mood survival toolkit? In addition to therapy, Song suggests hope. Remember hope? “Hope is something you do, not necessarily something you feel,” she says.
But how exactly do you do hope? It’s easier than it sounds. Look at your values and figure out how you can enact them in your everyday life. You might want to try the “perfect day” exercise, in which you imagine your perfect day, and then think about what it would take to scootch your life in that direction (not just in general but right now, within the confines of the pandemic). Another great tactic: Make a list of three to five professional and personal accomplishments you’d like to have achieved by the end of the year, and then consider how to focus on those goals. Make a list of concrete steps to help you get there. And finally, it’s always a good idea to practice being grateful for small, ordinary moments throughout the day. Focus on the feel of the fabric as you fold laundry, the sensory qualities of each ingredient as you make dinner. Breathe.
“It’s okay to build a practice of hope,” Song says. Build yours by engaging more actively with your life instead of simply making it through another day.