Sandra Taylor, Substance Misuse Counsellor at Watari

As the ongoing threat of COVID-19 continues to affect our community we have been noticing a rise in the number of people struggling with health concerns like anxiety and depression.  This is noticeable not only in the people we support at Watari but also amongst our staff, family and community.  We are seeing this as being common around the world with experts calling this “crisis fatigue.”

When I started to hear and read about “crisis fatigue,” I realized that this is a common struggle for many of us, and although I’d like to believe that I am working through all my emotions in a good way, I have realized that I also struggle in certain parts of my life.

So what is “crisis fatigue?”

When we are under threat, our adrenal glands flood our body with Cortisol and Adrenaline.  This will amp up our metabolism to give us the shove we need to get out of danger. These hormones will help us when faced with a temporary danger or threat.

As Michael Pittaro, PH.D., writes in Psychology Today: “From an evolutionary perspective, cortisol and adrenaline prepare the body for the infamous fight or flight syndrome.  However, when our bodies remain in crisis mode – which has been since COVID-19 – cortisol and adrenaline can wreak havoc on our physical and mental wellbeing because the threat remains very real and pervasive on a global scale.”

“Our bodies can’t sustain that level of nervous load,” says Adrienne Heinz, a clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD.  “It’s a wholly different type of crisis, and it just fatigues us in ways that we’re not as used to. Things start to fail,” says Heinz.  “We start to experience a rise in anxiety, insomnia and depression.”

We are now recognizing that there are physical consequences as much as there are economic and emotional ones. We may start to feel physically and emotionally exhausted, lack of motivation, a feeling of helplessness and overwhelm.  This “fatigue” may cause us to be easily triggered, or completely withdrawn.  This could also be a time when risky behaviours like substance misuse start to increase.  And for some, a sense of denial that there is even a health threat out there.

I have had many conversations with my friends and colleagues and one thing I am realizing is that it is helpful to keep the conversation going.  This health threat is real, ongoing, and with no definitive end in sight.

This is a time of uncertainty and things are changing on a day to day basis.  Therefore, our needs are also changing based on what is happening in the world today. I know that for some of us there are real barriers like poverty and lack of safe housing or no housing at all and with winter coming the struggle is going to increase. This is when it will be especially important to reach out to others for support. Increase your focus on self-care, do the activities that bring you joy.  Spend time with your family and those around you; be kind and take each day one step at a time.

Nicole Spector’s article in Today lists “7 self-care tips in coping with crisis fatigue”

  1.  Cut out any negative coping skills
  2. Stick to a routine
  3. Pay attention to the story you are telling yourself. (look for the positives in life)
  4. Practice Mindfulness
  5. Practice Self Care
  6. Let yourself grieve
  7. Pull in your support people

The best advice I have heard is to “keep it simple.”  Have a structured sleeping schedule, turn off the news, try to have a healthy diet, exercise, and get outdoors when you can.  Remember that staying connected is one of the best ways to improve your wellness.  You are not alone.  As Bonnie Henry has been saying since the beginning: “Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Safe.”

Watch Watari Counsellors John and Sandra, talk about crisis fatigue, COVID-19, and how to cope with it all in a healthy way: