Crisis Fatigue: Affecting More People Than COVID-19

The year 2020 is the beginning of a new decade. However, what most of us failed to anticipate is how difficult and vexing this year would become. For months, the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd’s death, and countless other tragedies all over the world have been overwhelming people with worry, fear, and stress. Moreover, much to everyone’s dismay, there seems to be no end in sight to the different crises happening worldwide.

Due to these unrelenting turn of events, men, women, and children alike are feeling a wide range of negative emotions. Sadness, depression, frustration, anxiety, and terror have overtaken many, while others are feeling numb, tired, empty, or hopeless. This emotional state is a condition that psychologists refer to as “crisis fatigue.”

What is crisis fatigue?

Dr. Petros Levounis, professor and chairman at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, explained that people go through phases when responding to a crisis:

  • First, there is the heroic phase, where everyone with the same views come together and take action during a crisis.
  • Second is the honeymoon phase, where individuals who took action — whether verbally (expressing their stance on social media), physically (joining protests), or through other means (making donations) — feel good about being part of the community.
  • Then comes the disillusionment phase, which is when individuals begin developing an “everyone for himself or herself” mentality as a result of delays and problems common with disasters. People usually experience crisis fatigue during this phase, and the feeling can last for several months or until the crisis passes.

Elaborating on why crisis fatigue occurs, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, PhD, professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said “the fight-or-flight response, or short-term stress, is our friend,” and that “the biological stress response can protect us during challenging situations or crises.” However, Dhabar concluded that “when stress becomes chronic and persists for weeks, months, or years, it can have harmful effects, and in particularly repetitive or severe conditions, could lead to crisis fatigue.”

Levounis adds that people who invest plenty of time and energy in the early phases can suffer from crisis fatigue later on, mainly since the human body is unable to sustain a high adrenaline state for a prolonged period, making a “crash” inevitable.

What are the signs and symptoms of crisis fatigue?

A person’s experience with crisis fatigue could go in one of two directions.

“One is the hyperarousal or high anxiety state, where people are irritable and any little thing may trigger them,” according to Levounis. The other direction is when people act withdrawn. Rather than feeling anxious and concerned about the situation, they have become unbothered, numb, or cold.

The other symptoms of crisis fatigue may include significant changes to a patient’s appetite and sleep patterns. They may also experience disruption in their daily routines.

Are there ways to manage crisis fatigue?

Crisis fatigue is sometimes unavoidable, but there are things we can do to make ourselves feel better.

Some of the things Levounis recommended include:

  • Take good care of the four pillars of physical wellness, which include nutrition, exercise, sleep, and sex.
  • Stay in touch with close friends, loving family members, and society at large.
  • Maintain a sense of normalcy in life by preserving routines.

Dhabhar also added the following suggestions:

  • Limit media exposure.
  • Engage in enjoyable yet safe activities.
  • Shift emotions of hatred and anger to genuine feelings of compassion and appreciation.
  • Try yoga or meditation for reduced stress and improved well-being.

Last but not least, both Levounis and Dhabhar highly encourage seeking help from a mental health professional if none of these measures help beat crisis fatigue. Click here to connect with a therapist now.