HOPE & COPE: As pandemic fatigue drags on, experts offer advice on perseverance

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Holly McGuire, a Greenfield travel agent, has gone from booking highly anticipated Disney vacations to facilitating their cancellations after the theme parks shut down. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY –If the thought of the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic wears you out, you’re not alone.

Kelly Shores, a therapist at Restoration Counseling in Fortville, said most of her clients are struggling with some degree of COVID fatigue as the world marks the milestone. The pandemic landed in Hancock County a year ago next week.

“Most people really seem to be worn out from COVID life and desire a return to normal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a reality we will be returning to soon, which many people find disheartening,” Shores said.

Steve Long, president and CEO at Hancock Regional Hospital, can relate.

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As Hancock Health’s main voice on how to navigate the pandemic, he’s spent the past year warning the public of dangers, advising them on how best to protect themselves and their loved ones against contracting and spreading the deadly virus.

He understands that people are simply worn out.

“COVID fatigue is real, and we all have it. Masks have worn out their welcome, hands are dry and chapped, and though I am an introvert at heart, I am really looking forward to hanging out with crowds again,” Long said.

Health-care experts say the symptoms of COVID fatigue can go well beyond having the blues, and can include physical and mental exhaustion; depression and anxiety; irritability; and the inability to complete daily tasks.

Couple that with being confined at home with demanding children, and the struggle becomes all too real.

Jenny Hortemiller has spent the past 12 months desperately seeking out creative ways to keep her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son occupied.

She also gave birth to her youngest son three months ago.

It’s enough to make any stay-at-home mom frazzled, even without a pandemic.

Parents everywhere have struggled to find things to do with kids outside the home over the past year, with many places shut down and play dates put on hold.

In warmer months, Hortemiller and her pint-size crew frequented the Greenfield splash pad and local parks, although the playgrounds were closed.

Winter has been much more difficult, she said.

“It’s definitely been very rough. It’s definitely affected my mental health. Being stuck at home, you do get stir crazy,” she said.

Shores said depression and anxiety are two big indicators of COVID fatigue, which can also manifest itself through general fatigue, a change in eating habits, restlessness and insomnia.

The struggle is understandable, she said.

“Many people are grieving life before COVID and struggling to find a new normal,” said Shores, who has seen an increased number of clients coming to her practice in the months since the pandemic began.

“We are seeing an increase in clients struggling with anxiety as well as a variety of relational issues, including an increase in a need for marital counseling. I would say I am dealing with COVID and its impact with every client I see,” she said.

“Even if this is not the presenting issue, we are all struggling with the effects of COVID in some way.”

Local pastors have spent the past year encouraging their parishioners to keep the faith, even if they’ve been forced to spend less time together.

Like many churches, Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield discontinued in-person services and switched to a virtual format in mid-March 2020. In-person services resumed on May 31, with limited services, social distancing and several safety measures.

“We are still taking health and safety precautions every week. We still have not fully reopened all of our in-person nursery and children’s ministries,” said David Barnett, the church’s teaching pastor, who knows the pandemic has taken a toll.

“Everyone is dealing with COVID burnout differently,” he said.

“One of the greatest challenges that people are facing is loneliness. For many people, their church family is a vibrant part of their life. For others, their church family is the only family they have in the area. That is why staying in touch with our church family and meeting practical needs for everybody as they arise has been so important.”

Many are seeking out healthy ways to cope. A local massage therapist and travel agent both report that COVID burnout has played a big role in a boon to their business in recent months, as clients seek out ways to relax.

“My business has just exploded” said Amanda Magallanes, a massage therapist at Something New at Tiffany’s Salon & Spa in Greenfield.

Times were tight when she was out of work from mid-March to mid-May, when salons and restaurants were closed down statewide, but business quickly rebounded, and her number of clients soon doubled.

“People are taking care of themselves and to find a way to relax. The stress has made it more important for people to take care of themselves, and self-care is an important part of mental health,” she said.

From a business perspective, the year 2020 was stressful and disappointing for Holly McGuire, owner of Hi Ho Vacations in Greenfield, but things are starting to turn around as people gradually return to travel.

“January and February have been our busiest time for new bookings since we’ve been open in 10 years. Obviously there is a lot of pent-up demand right now,” said McGuire, who manages a team of 32 independent travel planners from her Greenfield home.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘I just gotta get out of here,’” she said.

Many are using their travel budget from 2020 and going on more elaborate vacations this year, McGuire said.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who didn’t travel last year, doing a lot of bucket-list trips, or if they’re going to (theme) parks, they’re staying in higher-end resorts,” she said.

“They’re spending a little more on their vacations, and they don’t seem to be very worried about it, which we found pretty interesting. We thought given the economic downturn there would be a lot of people economizing their trips more, but the opposite has been true.”

McGuire thinks the pandemic has instilled a “life is short” mindset in many people, who are itching to make memories when they can.

“We serve clients all over the world, and a lot of people have missed birthdays, anniversary trips and graduation trips. We really have seen a lot of people say ‘I’m not going to miss out on one more thing,’” she said.

That’s not to say travelers are throwing caution to the wind. McGuire said travelers are prioritizing going to hotels and parks that are promoting stringent safety measures.

“They want to make sure they’re traveling to safe places, and that the places we have been serving are doing things all the right ways,” the travel planner said. With touchless check-ins, keyless entries and plenty of hand sanitizer available everywhere, “the destinations that we work with are very interested in keeping people safe.”

Whether booking a trip or a massage, or simply arranging some time to catch up with friends, Shores said that self-care is critical as the world continues to navigate its way through the pandemic.

“The best way to combat the struggles related to COVID stress is self-care. I am encouraging my clients to focus on exercising, eating healthy and getting outside as much as possible,” said Shores, who also encourages her clients to safely reconnect with family and friends.

“While we need to continue to be cautious about gatherings and wear our masks, we cannot continue to live in complete isolation. We need to move toward balancing our mental and emotional health with our physical safety, and for many of us, that means we need to be spending time with friends and family,” said Shores, who hopes that those who are really struggling will reach out to a mental health expert for support.

While Long encourages everyone to play it safe when it comes to connecting with others, he said there are many ways people can help alleviate the stress brought on by the pandemic, like eating healthy, exercising regularly, limiting social media consumption and engaging in spiritually fulfilling activities.

Staying mentally and physically healthy is the best way to combat the pandemic, he said.

“If we succumb to COVID fatigue,” said Long, “it is likely we will slip in our adherence to preventive measures and make ourselves and our families more vulnerable to exposure to the disease.”

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While the pandemic hasn’t impacted every individual physically, it has impacted many people’s mental health.

On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that pandemic-related stress can cause the following:

–Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness or frustration

–Changes in appetite, energy, desires and interests

–Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

–Difficulty sleeping or nightmares

–Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems and skin rashes

–Worsening of chronic health problems

–Worsening of mental health conditions

–Increased use of tobacco alcohol, and other substances

The CDC suggests managing the stress in a variety of ways:

–Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, TV and computer screens for a while.

–Take care of your body.

–Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate.

–Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

–Exercise regularly.

–Get plenty of sleep.

–Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco and substance use.

–Continue with routine preventive measures (such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, etc.) as recommended by your health-care provider.

–Get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available available.

–Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.

–Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

–Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. While social-distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media or by phone or mail.

RESOURCES

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453 or text 1-800-422-4453

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

Veteran’s Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 or text 8388255 for crisis chat

Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (call or text)

The Eldercare Locator: 800-677-1116 (includes TTY instructions)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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