7 ways to beat COVID fatigue

We have been living with COVID-19 for more than a year, and it continues to affect all of us. Vaccines offer a glimmer of hope for the future, but many people are feeling mentally and physically exhausted.

“We’re still in the pandemic, and our nervous systems have been on high alert for a long time,” says Wenda Salomons, a chaplain at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. “But one thing we can control is how we access energy and calm ourselves.”

Laurel Kirchner, a wellness advisor at Covenant Health, says she’s noticed that perspective makes a significant difference in how well people cope.

“The people who are doing well have adopted the mindset of ‘this is life as we know it for now, and I choose to make the best of it,’ as opposed to believing that life will begin again when the pandemic is over,” Laurel says.

So how can we find the energy to counteract the mental and physical fatigue we’re feeling? Wenda and Laurel have some practical tips for us.

1. Rethink your self-care activities

Many experts tout self-care as a cornerstone of mental, physical and spiritual health. But Laurel says there is more to self-care than self-pampering, and it’s important to ask ourselves whether our choices are helping or harming us.

“Self-care is a balance between disciplining ourselves to take the best care of ourselves possible and taking time and space for rest and relaxation,” Laurel says. “It’s more than a glass of wine or cupcakes and a bubble bath.”

Though there is nothing wrong with treating ourselves once in a while, unhealthy choices can make us feel worse over time, even if they do bring us relaxation or comfort in the moment.

On the other hand, preparing a healthy meal, going for a walk or meditating are self-care activities that will replenish our energy stores. How you frame the activity matters.

“Instead of telling yourself, ‘I have to go on a walk,’ tell yourself, ‘I get to go on a walk because I’m healthy,’” Laurel says. “I think sometimes we underestimate the power of small changes and small efforts, but they add up over time.”

2. Name your fears and emotions

Wenda says naming your fears and emotions is something she often recommends because it can help us process the turmoil in our lives and minds. There are many ways to do this, including through meditation, journaling and prayer.

“For many folks, connecting with something greater than themselves is critical to a healthy spirituality and life experience,” Wenda says. “Whether we meditate or pray or simply reflect on our day, pausing to acknowledge and name our experiences can bring us a sense of calm and a sense of being held.”

And once you’ve identified an emotion or fear, be compassionate and give yourself permission to feel it.

“Research has shown that just by slowing down and labelling emotional experience, we can feel some release of tension,” Laurel adds. “Emotions need motion in order to process them. This is why talking about life with others helps us ‘make sense’ of our experiences. A coffee or a walk with a friend does a world of good to help us process difficult emotions.”

3. Check your media consumption

Laurel says it’s important to reflect on our social media and screen time to see how these habits make us feel. If they contribute to our stress, anxiety or sadness, it’s time to make some changes. This could mean unfollowing social media accounts that don’t add value to your life, reducing the amount of screen time or replacing somber movies with lighter toned films.

4. Use mindfulness to appreciate simple pleasures

Mindfulness — the practice of observing our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without judgment — can help us better manage our emotions and improve our mental and physical health. And it can help us glean more enjoyment from things in life that we may take for granted.

“It’s important to pay greater attention to our daily experiences and the things, however small, that give us joy,” Wenda says. “It could be really relishing simple things, like pleasant smells, sounds or tastes. Paying attention to our senses can bring relief and a sense of calm.”

For example, we may consider sunshine, morning coffee and walking the dog to be mundane activities in our day-to-day lives. But when we take the time to appreciate how good the sun feels on our skin, how energized coffee makes us feel or how soft our dog’s fur is, these routines can become highlights in the day.

5. Set healthy boundaries

Be aware if you need to set personal boundaries.

“If you’re feeling depleted, you need to set a boundary and say no sometimes, even if it’s to family or friends, especially if you find the person draining,” Laurel says. “We have to get to that point where we no longer believe we have to be everything to everyone.”

6. Move your body

Taking time for regular physical activity, even if only for a few minutes at a time, helps us decompress and restore our energy level. Along with offering a plethora of physical benefits, exercise boosts our mood and energy, promotes better sleep and sharpens our focus.

“Physical movement of any sort helps break the stress cycle,” Laurel says. “It moves us out of fight, flight or freeze and into a state of rest, digest and decompress.”

7. Practice deep breathing

Laurel and Wenda recommend deep breathing as a tool for restoring calm in our bodies and minds. Breathing deeply, even for just one minute, can put our bodies into rest mode and slow our heart rate. And don’t forget the importance of a long, slow exhale, which is key to engaging the nervous system.

Pairing it with something you already do each day is a great way to make it a habit.

“Get in the habit of taking some slow, mindful deep breaths while you’re stopped at a red light, waiting for your computer to load or washing your hands,” Laurel says.

Contribute to The Vital Beat

Have a story to share about health care? An idea for an article? We value all contributions.

Submit an idea