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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tens of millions of illnesses and more than a million deaths worldwide since late 2019.

COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, also has had a significant impact on people’s lives. Schools, workplaces, and businesses may have shut down or changed their normal operations.

Have a referral from your doctor? Schedule your appointment online now at UPMC Urgent Care.

Because of the chaos caused by COVID-19 and other crises, you may be feeling overwhelmed. This is known as “crisis fatigue,” and there are ways you can overcome it.

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What Is Crisis Fatigue?

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common emotions, whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition or not.

Crisis situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can cause mental health issues. You may feel anxious about the health of you or your loved ones, about a lost job, or the overall uncertainty of this disease. It’s also possible you may be feeling overwhelmed by what you see on your Twitter or Facebook feed.

Your body’s adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to manage stress. However, if your stress levels remain high for an extended period — like during a crisis — the excess levels of these hormones can do more harm than good. You may feel both mental impacts like anxiety, depression, and hopelessness, and physical impacts like headaches, heart palpitations, and insomnia.

These feelings are part of crisis fatigue. Crisis fatigue isn’t an official medical diagnosis, but it does describe the overwhelming feeling of an ongoing crisis or crises.

Crisis fatigue symptoms

Stress affects people in different ways, and so does crisis fatigue. Crisis fatigue can cause you to feel tired or burned out. It also can lead to risky decisions, such as turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems (insomnia or oversleeping)
  • Lack of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism/hopelessness
  • Numb or empty feeling
  • Risky decision-making

How to Cope With Crisis Fatigue

Like other mental health conditions, crisis fatigue can put a burden on you. If left untreated, it can make it harder to perform everyday tasks. But there are ways you can overcome the symptoms.

  • Talk to someone. As with other mental health conditions and crisis situations that we face, it’s important to recognize you’re not alone. Whether it’s with a licensed therapist or a family, friend, or other natural support, sometimes just talking about your problems can start you on the road to feeling better.
  • Turn off the news. Whether it’s wall-to-wall news coverage or social media posts, sometimes media can cause mental health burdens. If you’re feeling anxious by news coverage, try taking a break.
  • Create a routine. We tend to be creatures of habit and familiarity. Instead of focusing your attention on a crisis, try to control what you can control. Maybe it’s a healthier diet, or a new exercise routine. A healthy body and healthy mind can go hand in hand.
  • Focus on the positives. A crisis can have a negative effect on people’s lives, and the stress of dealing with it can cause fatigue. Amid all that, it’s important to find time to unwind and do things that make you happy. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones or watching one of your favorite movies, try to find time daily to do things you enjoy. Keeping a sense of hope and thinking positively can have benefits to your mental well-being.
  • Prioritize. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by putting your attention on too many things at once. Try to focus on the most important things that you can directly impact.
  • Practice mindfulness. Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness techniques can help you take your mind off stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid harmful choices. You can compound your crisis fatigue by making risky decisions like turning to substances or overspending.

If you find yourself struggling with crisis fatigue or any other mental health burdens, you are not alone. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and UPMC Western Behavioral Health provide diagnosis and treatment for many psychiatric conditions. Call us at 412-624-1000 or toll-free at 1-877-624-4100 for more information.

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Arianna Galligher, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, How to Cope With 'Crisis Fatigue.' https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/how-to-cope-with-crisis-fatigue

Michael Pittaro, PhD, Psychology Today, Crisis Fatigue and the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-crime-and-justice-doctor/202008/crisis-fatigue-and-the-covid-19-pandemic

Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines, Coping With Fatigue, Fear, and Panic During a Crisis. https://hbr.org/2020/03/coping-with-fatigue-fear-and-panic-during-a-crisis

Nicole Spector, TODAY, 7 Self-Care Tips for Coping With 'Crisis Fatigue.' https://www.today.com/health/7-self-care-tips-coping-covid-19-crisis-fatigue-t189933

Wired, All This Chaos Might Be Giving You 'Crisis Fatigue.' https://www.wired.com/story/crisis-fatigue/

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.