Pandemic Fatigue Myth or Fact

Pandemic Fatigue: Why Have Some People Stopped Following Protection Rules?

Pandemic Fatigue

Among the possible reasons that may lead to the abandonment of protective behaviors recommended by health authorities, the following can be highlighted:

Lack of understanding of the rules.

Given that the pandemic has been present worldwide for approximately a year, ignorance of the regulations is not one of the causes that explain its non-compliance. However, not understanding why the different measures are adopted or the consequences of skipping them means that the person does not link them with health, so that they do not have that collective moral conscience that promotes compliance with the rules as the only way to reduce the number of cases.

The need for social contact.

The latter, together with the human being’s own need for social contact , can lead to certain protection measures being perceived more as an inconvenience than as a long-term benefit (eg avoiding relating to friends). In this sense, the fact that the shops and restaurants and leisure establishments continue to be open with a certain normality can be interpreted as that there is no danger to go.

Not having experienced the consequences of the disease.

On the other hand, not having seen the serious effects of the virus on someone close to you, not having gotten sick despite having failed to comply with certain recommendations or having passed the disease asymptomatically can lead to a false perception of the severity of the disease. relax in compliance with the rules. In fact, a study by the Carlos III Health Institute has collected that currently only 36% of citizens consider that the consequences of contagion can be serious or very serious (compared to 43% in July).

The arrival of the vaccine.

It should be noted that the imminent vaccine against COVID-19 could cause a paradoxical effect : that citizens neglect protection measures, believing that the end of the pandemic is near. This error can put many lives at risk and more taking into account the characteristics of the new strain , so it is important that both the media and government bodies emphasize the idea that:

“Although vaccination will be implemented progressively, that does not mean that the danger is over . 

The coronavirus vaccine does not end the danger.

Distrust of government agencies.

Likewise, imposing restrictions on people who have followed all the recommendations gives them the impression that their effort and time have not had an impact on the positive evolution of the pandemic, so they tend to become frustrated and follow the recommendations less. Obviously, mistrust and discredit towards health policies due to the lack of unification of health criteria also influences adherence, reducing it by blaming certain sectors of society instead of ensuring collective solidarity.

In this sense, special emphasis should be placed on the fundamental role of the Government, since the perceived susceptibility and the perception of severity depend mainly on the information provided by it, which seriously affects adherence to protection measures. Therefore, in addition to transmitting information clearly and transparently, it is important to bear in mind that discrediting, disaffection and pandemic fatigue can lead to lax compliance with the rules because one makes decisions guided by the emotion of the moment, acting thoughtlessly and individualistically.

What is pandemic fatigue and what are its symptoms?

At the beginning of the pandemic, fear of the coronavirus caused citizens to reduce their outings to the minimum possible, increasing online purchases in order to avoid overcrowding. When they got home, many people cleaned their groceries after changing their clothes and even took a shower.

Although there is now more information about the means of contagion and the rules of the new normal are not the same as those of the first state of alarm, it is evident that there are people who are going through a period of sadness due to the accumulation of stress and the hopelessness regarding the loss of habits to which they have not yet been able to return. Said mourning often turns into “being burned out” and questioning the protection measures.

Pandemic fatigue concept.

Given these facts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has considered that:

“Pandemic fatigue is a gradual demotivation to follow the protection recommendations to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.”

This concept defines a feeling of fatigue, apathy and hopelessness in the current situation . In addition, to this feeling of physical and mental exhaustion must be added fear and the feeling of helplessness in the face of contagion, with the disorders that this can bring. Thus, pandemic fatigue is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Mental tiredness and lack of concentration .
  • Feeling of helplessness.
  • Irritability and frustration.
  • Negative and anxious thoughts.
  • Sleep or appetite disorders .
  • Isolation.

Exhaustion, fatigue and apathy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

All these symptoms are due not only to the fear of sustained contagion over time, but to everything that the pandemic has entailed and continues to entail: greater social isolation, stress due to the introduction of teleworking or loss of employment, reduced freedom and, most importantly, the passing of loved ones.

“Around 60% of the European population suffers from a feeling of emotional fatigue in the face of this uncertain situation.”

The long-term consequences of pandemic fatigue.

This discomfort and lack of motivation often leads to a progressive neglect of recommended protective behaviors . In addition, this physical and mental exhaustion due to the worry and anxiety that comes from facing each day with the disease has led experts to consider that this third wave will bring greater psychological consequences , since people are not only more tired of this new style life and feeling at risk, but is hopeless about when this situation will be solved and the economic and social repercussions that this health crisis has caused.

This is because, although moderate stress helps to achieve goals that might not otherwise be achieved, when one is subjected to a great deal of stress for a long time, the body becomes tired and weakened , beginning to suffer from problems of psychological health such as anxiety or depression. These problems arise as a result of tiredness coupled with hopelessness and boredom regarding the situation, since we live continuously thinking about life without restrictive measures, but:

“As that future does not finish arriving, sadness and demotivation end up affecting physical and mental health.”

The concept of pandemic fatigue questioned by experts.

From the outset, some governments have acted as if the population will not be able to embrace the measures of the new normal and will be unable to withstand the restrictions for a long time. Starting from this very weak conception of the human will, some governments made the mistake of delaying the application of containment measures.

However, if there is something that the pandemic has shown, it is that behavioral fatigue is not a generalized phenomenon , but rather that people have determination and will, as they have incorporated the new rules into their daily lives. For this reason, social psychologist Susan Michael fears that they will psychologize the pandemic, since:

“Portraying people as weak can be used to explain infections when their cause is mainly due to government policies.”

Government distrust influences the abandonment of the measures.

This coupled with the fact that there are other factors such as distrust of current health management, a decreasing purchasing power level or personal motivation (for example, not to maintain a safe distance with a person who is not living together), which strongly influence adherence to sanitary measures has led some experts to consider that this term is insufficient and, therefore, that it does not serve to provide real solutions. However, knowing how this fatigue occurs due to the anguish resulting from prolonged exposure to aversive situations can help to propose a series of policies aimed at maximizing adherence, taking into account the motivational and emotional repercussions of this sustained situation.

For this reason, the WHO has coined this new term, in order to recognize this natural and expected response to a prolonged public health crisis , especially of this severity and magnitude, which has required the implementation of unprecedented invasive measures throughout the population.

What protective measures have been reduced the most over time?

With the arrival of the New Year, the media have exposed numerous cases in which the population has bypassed the restrictions, even holding parties that last several days. Although at the beginning of the pandemic this was an unthinkable behavior, as time has passed, the population has modified its protective and risk behaviors .

For example, according to a study by the Carlos III Health Institute, the frequency of searching for information about the disease has now been reduced , especially among minors, people with a lower level of education and those who do not live with children.

The differences according to age.

In a study by the University of Southern California (USC) these differences are reflected by age groups. In March, older people did not differ from younger ones regarding their degree of commitment in measures such as wearing a mask, washing their hands more frequently, canceling personal and social activities, avoiding high-risk people or public places and eating in restaurants.

However, according to this same study, as of May, older people tended to implement these behaviors more than younger people . Regarding the rest of the behavioral changes (washing hands, keeping a safe distance, avoiding social gatherings and not touching eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands), all of them decreased over time, except the use of a mask and ventilation of closed places. In this way, although older people were less likely to have close contact with people outside their trusted environment:

“As the pandemic progressed, potentially dangerous social behaviors resumed.”

Protective measures are abandoned as the pandemic progresses.

Therefore, in a future article, we will delve into individual and psychosocial strategies that, together with health policies, can serve to combat pandemic fatigue.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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