Questions And Answers About Fighting Pandemic Fatigue : Consider This from NPR The U.S. is entering the worst of the pandemic. For many, pandemic fatigue set in months ago. Others are struggling anew with cases spiking dramatically almost everywhere in the country.

Psychotherapist Gina Moffa and NPR's Linda Holmes answer listener questions about mental health, processing the news, and keeping ourselves occupied.

Linda hosts NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.
NPR logo

Pandemic Fatigue Q & A: Mental Health, Processing The News, And Staying Occupied

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/933014907/934853142" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Pandemic Fatigue Q & A: Mental Health, Processing The News, And Staying Occupied

Pandemic Fatigue Q & A: Mental Health, Processing The News, And Staying Occupied

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/933014907/934853142" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hey. It's Audie Cornish. And the last few days, weeks, months, frankly, have been a lot, so I asked you all to send in some questions about how to cope with everything. And you did. So this bonus episode is all about that - hope it helps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Anne Findlay lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City, Utah. And whenever she can, she rides her bike up the canyons.

ANNE FINDLAY: It's just an escape. Going up on my bike up the mountain, it's kind of slow-paced, and I just look at the trees and the streams. And I just kind of zone out and just enjoy that time.

CORNISH: Her furthest distance so far this year - 117 miles in a day.

FINDLAY: That's how I have been coping. I was riding my bike.

CORNISH: And what she's coping with is the same thing we're all coping with - the fact that we're eight months into this pandemic, and things are worse than they've ever been.

FINDLAY: It just feels overwhelming. I'm helping the kids with school and then working the rest of the day.

CORNISH: Findlay's daughters are 8 and 6, both going to school remotely. Even though her job as a biomedical engineer is flexible, there just aren't enough hours in the day. She says the thing about the pandemic is that you don't really find your stride. It just feels like it's getting harder.

FINDLAY: It's just, like - it's just sad. I just feel a sadness about a lot of it and about a lot of the things my kids are missing out on right now.

CORNISH: So Findlay has been approaching all of this like a really long uphill bike ride.

FINDLAY: If I don't know how long I'm going to be going uphill, I just tell myself, just say to yourself, this will never end. And then at every time you turn around the corner, you're not expecting to be at the top yet. And so it's just, like - that's kind of my mental strategy right now, is just like, this is it; you know, we've got to figure out how to handle it.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS. Living through a pandemic with no clear end in sight takes a toll on our mental health. We'll discuss your questions about depression, anxiety and just getting through the day. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Sunday, November 15.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. Gina Moffa knows a thing or two about stress and what a year like this can do to a person's psyche.

GINA MOFFA: It's a lot lately.

CORNISH: Moffa's been a licensed clinical social worker for more than 16 years. She says that for a lot of people, it's hard to know exactly what they're feeling right now - seasonal depression, anxiety, grief, perhaps all three and then some or just simply pandemic fatigue.

MOFFA: I describe pandemic fatigue as a listlessness, as an internal emotional-psychological exhaustion from being in a state of high anxiety, hyperalertness, and total grief and uncertainty for a prolonged period of time.

CORNISH: She says grief in particular is a complex emotion. Some people are grieving the loss of a job. Others are, of course, grieving the loss of a loved one. But there's also a more general sense of grief that happens in isolation.

MOFFA: And it's something that's not apparent because, well, first, as a society, we're so averse to grieving, and we're the pick-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps-and-keep-it-moving culture. But at the bottom of it, it's - collectively, we have all lost something, including just our sense of selves and predictability and all of this stuff that we knew to be true.

CORNISH: One upside Moffa has seen, if you can call it that, is that some of the clients she was seeing pre-pandemic now feel less alone in their struggles. They tell her this.

MOFFA: I don't feel as though I am in a compare-and-despair place, whereas before, if I was depressed, I would look around on social media, and I would see people having fun and doing things and laughing. And that made me even more depressed.

CORNISH: On the flip side, she's seeing clients who are becoming more and more restless from social distancing and quarantines.

MOFFA: I think at some point, people are risking behaviors because the idea of staying isolated feels like a fate worse than death for some.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOFFA: At what point is it more dangerous for me to stay inside alone than it is for me to take a risk - a calculated risk, but a risk, still?

CORNISH: Well, we're all living through this, so we asked you to send us questions about how to cope with the isolation and anxiety. And to answer them - or more accurately, at least empathize with them - I spoke with Gina Moffa and NPR's Linda Holmes of Pop Culture Happy Hour, who happens to be one of the wisest people I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: All right. So this first question comes from Matt McClain (ph) in Madison, La. He's trying to support four kids and his wife. He's currently unemployed, and so he's seeing, basically, the bills pile up - right? - as this pandemic has drawn on. And he's really struggling to stay motivated.

MATT MCCLAIN: I think the worst part of it is, every day, you wake up, and that stress is still there, and that fear is still there, and it's just always a part of you every day. It's like being in constant pain all the time. You know, your arm might hurt a little bit, but it's not too bad. But if that pain was there all day, every day for months without end, eventually, it's going to drive you crazy. I'd love to know how to better cope with that.

CORNISH: I don't know how to put it better than what he just said. And I'm going to want to hear from both of you on this one. Gina, can we start with you?

MOFFA: Sure. First of all, I'm so sorry that you're going through this. I think, instead of answers, I may actually want to start with some questions. Like, we know the stress is there. We know that, you know, the pileup of bills and the anxiety and the survival mechanisms that are kicking in are all there. But what are some things that could feel good? What could feel replenishing?

I think that right now, we're just in such a state of, when will this end? And not having answers to that puts us more in a state of survival. But maybe having things like a routine, like your workday, that can actually give you something to look forward to - not that your workday would - but planning something to look forward to, even if it's just being out of wherever it is you are and into a new place - that sometimes a new landscape can give us new ideas.

CORNISH: Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, I think about two things when I hear this question. One is actually - hopefully, this is not too personal, but I actually remember having a really bad experience one time, and I actually came and I spoke to Audie about it (laughter). And one of the things she said to me was, the reason why this feels terrible is that this is terrible.

And even if you think of yourself as someone who doesn't like to bake or work out or take pictures or things that mean something to other people, it's worth trying a few things. And I think you want to find the things that can be meaningful to you because this has to be a stretch of your life that has meaning of its own. But it's - it doesn't mean it's not going to be really hard 'cause I think it obviously really is.

CORNISH: And I remember that conversation. And it gets back to the idea of just acknowledging - right? - not pretending that things are fine...

HOLMES: Yup.

CORNISH: ...Can go a long way.

I want to come back to the voice we heard earlier, Anne Findlay in Salt Lake City. She's been staving off her anxiety with these long bike rides through the mountains, but her question is actually about her young children.

FINDLAY: What I've been wondering about is how we might recognize symptoms of depression and anxiety in our kids. I have an 8-year-old daughter, and it seems since - especially since the beginning of the school year, she's been having a harder time. She seems to be feeling angrier sometimes and just more defiant and also lonely. And I'm trying to help her with all those things.

CORNISH: Gina, we wanted to bring this to you because this is something you've actually written about, right?

MOFFA: Yes, I'm currently writing about it. I think it has been so much harder on the kids around us or our own kids than many of us actually realize. I mean, out of nowhere, they were uprooted from the routine. They stopped having social-physical interactions for months. And they likely listen to the news or hear you talking about it. Kids hear so much more than we give them credit for.

And honestly, I think we have to remember that our kids are grieving, too. You know, your child is ripped away from all she knew, more or less overnight. And that is a trauma and a real loss. So kids who are lonely or feeling grief for their normal routine will act out. And I want to make sure that we normalize these reactions because their routines have been totally turned upside down.

CORNISH: I want to turn to another one that I think a great many of us can relate to. It's from Britney Reyta (ph) in Lebanon, Ore.

BRITNEY REYTA: My question is about the 24-hour news cycle and how that affects individuals with anxiety, as well as people who may have not struggled previously with anxiety, especially this year with the election and the pandemic happening.

CORNISH: Linda, I want to come to you and then Gina again.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know, it's not - to me, it's not just the 24-hour news cycle; it's the 24-hour social media cycle. It's the thing that the writer Karen Ho talks about as doomscrolling, which is the practice of just kind of following social media constantly, particularly during times that are really difficult. And I have come to the conclusion that as human beings, we are just not meant to poach in other people's anxiety all the time. It's just not necessarily a healthy way to go about things.

You'll also see a lot of people, for example, on Twitter who are processing their own anxiety by catastrophizing. So you're seeing somebody else's misery and anxiety kind of stretched out. But when 20 people are doing it, it starts to feel very real and very terrifying. And then you feel worse.

So my suggestion is, you got to hop off. You got to hop off. Take breaks. The minute that it starts to make, like, your heart pound every time you pick up your phone or look at your computer or whatever, hop off - same thing with the news. You're not going to miss anything between noon and 4 that you can't find out at the end of the day.

CORNISH: Gina, I want to turn to you because hearing Linda say poaching in other people's anxiety - just such a good phrase. And I wonder kind of what you've been doing - right? - and what you're hearing from clients.

MOFFA: That's so true. Linda, thank you for that. I think that so many people are doomscrolling more and more. It's become almost an addiction. So for me, I turned off, honestly, most of the news notifications. And I gave myself five minutes a day to read sources like a newspaper as opposed to Facebook or social media. And being a therapist working with anxiety 12 hours a day and living through it myself, you know, I needed to make sure that I created really strong boundaries.

CORNISH: Finally, part of the exhaustion right now is that a lot of the activities that seemed quaint and new at the beginning of the pandemic don't really have the same appeal. We're on a Zoom call right now. Other people are having Zoom nights. A few people wanted to know if we had suggestions for connecting with our friends and family as the weather gets colder and as the number of cases begins to climb higher. Gina, can I start with you?

MOFFA: Absolutely. You know, I think, unfortunately, we are not finished with the electronic socializing or electronic working. It's just a matter of, how do we maintain a semblance of balance in there? You know, I don't think the weather should deter us for getting outside and still doing activities. Keeping your intellect and, you know, your activity level however it can be motivated and also just engaged is something that I would recommend.

You know, the TikTok dances and the sourdough bread and all of that can only last for so long, for sure. But I think it really is survival care for us to continue looking at things that keep us engaged, connected and creative to make these connections more steady.

HOLMES: You know, for me, the other thing I would add - and I agree with all of that. But I also think, sometimes, you have to remember that you can step back in time in addition to forward in time in trying to communicate. I think a lot of people have found that it seems like Zoom calls would be best. It seems like video calls would be the most similar to hanging out in person. But in some ways, it's like the uncanny valley thing where, as you get really close to something being similar, it actually seems more fake.

And so I know a few people who have decided that they're going to go back to just talking on the phone. They just say, can we just talk on the phone? Zoom calls stress me out; can we talk on the phone? Or I also have sent some people some physical cards or letters in the mail. People don't send a lot of physical cards or letters as much as they used to. And so you know, that becomes a really fun and interesting thing.

And people will tell you, oh, I - you know, I got this card; it was really fun and exciting 'cause it's not expected. So I think rather than trying to be like, I can exactly imitate what my normal social life is like, don't forget, there are some pretty tried-and-true methods from before we had all this stuff, too, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: That's NPR's Linda Holmes - she hosts a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour, which I drop into from time to time - and Gina Moffa, a clinical social worker. You can find her website in our show notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.