After being a routine therapy goer for the past five years, you could say I’m a kind of a pro at using my healthy coping strategies. I know that listening to a five minute guided meditation will help get me out of an anxiety spiral, and that calling a certain friend is a surefire way to boost my mood. There’s just one problem: As the pandemic drags on, I’m having a hard time finding the energy to pull out my meditation cushion or pick up the phone, even though I know both activities would help me feel better.
And apparently, I’m not alone. Two of the therapists that I spoke with for this story say they’ve seen their clients exhibiting a similar kind of burnout in recent months, which we at PureWow are calling ‘coping fatigue.’ According to Rachel Gersten, licensed mental health counselor and cofounder of Viva Wellness, the phenomenon is raging because, let’s be honest, living through pandemic is straight-up exhausting.
Gersten explains that before the pandemic, many of us had enough energy to take care of our daily responsibilities while building in some self-care practices. But thanks to the stresses of our current reality, we’re starting at a much lower energy level—which means that after taking care of the basics like showering, feeding ourselves and working, we have little to no energy left for non-essential activities. Yup, even the ones that we know would benefit our mental health.
OK, now that we’ve identified what coping fatigue is, how do those of us that are experiencing it deal? Here, three mental health experts share their best tips for managing it.
1. Go easy on yourself
If you’re having trouble finding the motivation to go running five days a week like you did in the Before Times, let yourself off the hook, says Gersten. It’s totally normal to have less energy these days since we’re essentially living in survival mode. Don’t beat yourself up over it. In fact, spending time criticizing yourself wastes some of that precious energy you’re trying to conserve, she adds.
2. Set realistic and achievable goals
It’ll be easier to get back into your healthy habits if you set realistic and achievable goals, says Casey O’Brien Martin, licensed mental health counselor and founder of Whole Child Counseling. For example, if you used to practice yoga every morning and now you aren’t practicing at all, make a plan to roll out your mat two or three times a week rather than jumping right back into your old routine. Starting with a small, attainable goal will make you less likely to give up or experience the frustration and disappointment that comes with getting off track. You can aim for something as simple as checking in with one friend this week or journaling for five minutes tonight—whatever sounds right to you.
3. Try a new coping strategy
Whether you can’t engage in your favorite way to unwind thanks to COVID-19 (I’m looking at you, dance floor enthusiasts) or you’re just plain bored of your usual methods of self-care, consider branching out, suggests Bisma Anwar, licensed mental health counselor and Talkspace therapist. Trying something that feels new and exciting like cooking or online art classes might make you more motivated to keep up the activity.
4. Keep it simple
If the idea of setting goals or starting a new hobby feels too overwhelming right now, stick to what Martin likes to call micro moves for self-care. These are simple acts, like making yourself a cup of tea, stretching for a few minutes or taking five slow deep breaths, that feel soothing but don’t require a big time or energy commitment. More suggestions include putting on a face mask, giving yourself a hand massage, trying square breathing or misting your face with rose water. Try to incorporate one or two of these quick self-care practices into your routine every day, suggests Martin.
5. Do one thing that boosts your mood every day
Maybe taking the time to drink your morning cup of coffee in silence helps you start your day on a good note. Or watching a few puppy videos on YouTube always seems to bring you joy. Make it a priority to do one thing that boosts your mood every day, recommends Anwar. That way, you’re doing something to ensure you feel a little positivity on a daily basis.
6. Know that indulging in escapism is OK
Good news: If your favorite way to cope lately involves getting lost in a book or Netflix binge, that’s totally fine. All three experts agree that doing something that helps you forget about the current circumstances for a while can be super helpful. Just make sure that you’re not playing The Sims so often that it starts interfering with your work, sleep or your home life, they say. That’s when you might want to consider scaling back.
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