This Is Hard. COVID Fatigue, Teaching, and What You Can Do About It.
It’s not just you, the topic of COVID fatigue seems to be everywhere right now (Ries, J. February 5, 2021). And, rightfully so. We are closing in on a year of living through a global pandemic. The adrenaline-pumping newness of it all has well and truly worn off and we are now fully entrenched in the monotony of lockdowns, restrictions, lack of social contact with friends and family, face masks and hand sanitizer, and, for many, additional responsibilities to their workload with COVID safety protocols and cleaning procedures. It’s all downright exhausting.
COVID fatigue, also referred to as “The Pandemic Wall”, has been described as just that, being generally tired and fed up with it all – the disinfecting, the restrictions, the changes, the longing to return to “normal” whatever that was, the isolation, and the fear. So, if you find yourself feeling bored, lonely, sad, frustrated, anxious, fearful, angry or resentful, it’s possible you’re experiencing the very real symptoms of COVID fatigue, according to Dr. Paul Thagard (November 12, 2020). Ultimately, he says, these complex emotions are normal reactions to the dramatic disruption and change COVID has brought into our daily lives and routines.
Dr. Scott Lear (October 26, 2020) suggests that COVID fatigue highlights just how difficult change really is for us. He suggests that just like quitting smoking or adopting new healthy lifestyle habits can be somewhat easy in the beginning but can feel harder and harder to maintain over time, all the changes we’ve made as a result of COVID have begun to weigh on us. And, for some, the commitment is starting to wane.
What’s worse is that, while there is some hope on the horizon with the approval and rollout of vaccines, there is still a lot of uncertainty over when we on an individual level will actually be eligible to receive it and how all the new variants will respond. And, even after that, there are still questions about how long it might take to reach heard immunity and the COVID threat finally becomes less real and immediate for everyone.
“It’s hard for people to keep doing something when they don’t know if there’s an end in sight”, says Dr. Anna Benerji an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto (Chiu, J. November 24, 2020). Many of us keep thinking “it’ll all feel a bit easier by…” or “if I can just get to the holidays, or spring break, or even just the weekend I’ll be fine…” The problem is, that we get to this made up milestones and it’s not the relief or break we hoped it would be - needed it to be.
Simply put, we’re all “over it” and we’ve been “over it” for a while. So, if we can all agree that we’re over it. What does this actually mean for teachers? According to Wade Repta, BHSc. OT and author of The Well Teacher, COVID fatigue is showing up in unique ways for teachers and it is having a pretty negative impact on many teachers’ overall health and well-being.
“In September and October, we had many teachers reporting that they were experiencing high levels of COVID fatigue. We were already seeing then, that unlike in “normal” years, teachers weren’t coming back to the classroom refreshed after the summer; they were starting the school year already feeling burned out. In our workshop polls throughout Fall 2020, the vast majority of teachers rated themselves as "completely overwhelmed" or "managing but just". The volume of burnout and fatigue we were seeing then is something we would perhaps expect to see at the end of the school year, if even then. It was already deeply concerning.
As the school year has progressed, there are some teachers have become less overwhelmed and fatigued as COVID protocols and teaching during COVID has become more normalized. But, all the other stressors of teaching still exist, so teachers who started with high levels of fatigue have continued to see a drop in their overall wellness.
On the other side of that though, is that those who were struggling early on were more reluctant to ask for help out of fear of leaving their colleagues with more work at a time when everyone was being challenged. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing and hearing from locals now, is that these teachers are hitting a wall. More teachers seem to be going from teaching full time to full medical leave almost without warning, which is highly unusual. COVID fatigue combined with the demands of the job, has ultimately reduced resilience and teachers are maxing out.
Some people are just tired of COVID and all the protocols – they are physically and emotionally drained and their level of investment in the process is starting to suffer. So, there have been reports that in some schools people are slipping a little in terms of their commitment towards mask use, distancing, and other COVID protocols. In our opinion, this isn't intentional at all; rather it’s a direct outcome of COVID fatigue, compounded by very challenging work roles. Of course, for teachers who are still very concerned with COVID, this is all very stressful. We are beginning to see some tensions arise in schools that is, at least in part, the result of COVID fatigue.
According to Wade, there are some ways to help manage all of this COVID fatigue:
- Check in with yourself. Use the Burnout Questionnaire and Wellness Map to reflect on your wellness and look at whether there are some areas that need to be addressed.
- Be mindful of your own needs, while still being aware of the needs of others. Compassion for yourself and others is always helpful.
- Right now, our fight or flight response is elevated. When this happens, we tend to think more in black and white and less in gray. But teaching and the day-to-day problem-solving required in the job, exist in the gray as every situation is unique. Try to stay focused on the problem-solving process by examining options and don't worry about who is "right” or “wrong". If you are coping better than some others, be patient and lead with a problem-solving approach and you will find you are reaching more positive outcomes.
- This might seem like an overly simplistic suggestion but breathing with intention can really help mitigate the effects of stress, and there is a lot of it right now. Take advantage of downtime where you can and find some space for yourself that feels safe and practice some deep breathing.
- Reacquaint yourself with some things that give you joy and provide a step back from COVID and work. Pick up that instrument you haven't played, put on a yoga video on YouTube, play a board game with your children, or read the newest book that has caught your eye. Whatever it is, even if you only do it for 10 or 15 minutes a couple of times per week, can help lessen some of the effects of COVID fatigue.
At any given moment, most teachers are doing ok. But we can also see that COVID fatigue is really taking its toll on our teachers. Our message here is that what you're experiencing is a totally normal response to a completely unpredictable, difficult, scary, and exhausting experience. Be safe while being mindful of your limits. We may be socially distanced, but we will get through this together.
Chiu, J. (November 24, 2020) Pandemic Fatigue Is Real – Here Are Some Concrete Steps To Fight It. The Star. URL: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/11/24/covid-fatigue-is-real-here-are-some-concrete-steps-to-fight-it.html
Lier, S. (October 26, 2020) COVID Fatigue? Here Are 6 Ways To Overcome It. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. URL: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/covid-fatigue-here-are-6-ways-to-overcome-it
Ries, J. (February 5, 2021) It’s Not Just You. A Lot Of Us Are Hitting A Pandemic Wall Right Now. Huffington Post. URL: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/coronavirus-pandemic-wall-mental-health_l_601b3c9dc5b6c0af54d09ccb?fbclid=IwAR0_lyyuW5Gw8jQyQJ5HowdHoM__06sx54gy0OOSunt2z5rlwcjyHGLRq0g
Thagard, P. (November 12, 2020) What Is COVID Fatigue? Psychology Today. URL: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/hot-thought/202011/what-is-covid-fatigue