Just when you’ve adjusted to lockdowns, social distancing and workplace closures related to COVID-19, along comes the possibility of another disaster to upend our lives—hurricane season.
We prepare for it every year. We’re used to doing it. But in this pandemic year, emergency officials worry we’re suffering from “disaster fatigue,” which may affect our ability to prepare effectively for the 2020 hurricane season.
Dr. Ashley Chatigny, a double board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health with Lee Physician Group, walks us through what disaster fatigue is and how we can fend it off so we can protect ourselves and families.
“Since COVID-19 started, we’ve lived in various states of stress, depression, exhaustion, sleep problems, anger, and growing cynicism,” Dr. Chatigny says. “We’re tired of seeing the news. We’re tired of seeing the numbers, the forecasts, the predictions. We’re worn out, honestly. And in some people already prone to anxiety or clinical depression, the toll can be even worse.”
The recent civil unrest rocking the country has only worsened our mindset, stoking a “tinder box of psychic stress,” Dr. Chatigny adds. “It used to be that when we found ourselves stressed, we could count on family life at home to comfort us. But sheltering in place has robbed us of that. For now, we can’t do the things that typically bring us joy and restore us.”
For example, parents relied on after-school activities as a healthy outlet for their children. But the pandemic has closed schools, ending extracurricular activities, playdates and even trips to the playground. Parents can only do so much at home with children who, like their parents, are going stir-crazy.
Dr. Chatigny suggests limiting our exposure to the news by electronically unplugging at least one hour a day.
“It’s emotionally exhausting and traumatizing,” she says about our constant exposure to the latest news about civil protests, pandemic figures, and economic turmoil.
“The average person checks their phone some 150 times a day,” Dr. Chatigny notes. “We’re checking our smartphones before going to bed at night and after waking up in the morning. No wonder we’re feeling overwhelmed. Before turning out the lights, turn off your phone.”
In the early weeks of the pandemic lockdown, the World Health Organization issued an advisory warning about the dangers of overconsuming alcohol. The organization said drinking alcohol can increase the risk of getting COVID-19 and make it worse. It also can lead to risk-taking behaviors, violence and mental health issues, Dr. Chatigny adds.
“We can focus too much on drinking when we’re sheltering at home,” says Dr. Chatigny. “It’s challenging enough for us to keep our spirits up in the face of all the negative news. Alcohol is a central nervous depressant. You might drink to lift your spirits, but eventually alcohol has the opposite effect on your body and mood. Either stay away from alcohol or limit your intake of it.”
Dr. Chatigny says practicing self-care remains key to avoiding or lessening the dispiriting effects of disaster fatigue. She suggests the following can do a body—and mind—good.
“We have to actively take care of ourselves,” she says. “There are so many ways we can do that. For example, if you’re able to volunteer your time to improve a situation instead of donating money to it. Time is better than money, for some people. Volunteering for a worthy cause gets us out of ourselves, too. Sometimes we can too preoccupied with our troubles. It’s only natural but we don’t have to indulge it.”
During the pandemic, consumers have binged on less-than-healthy foods to comfort themselves, leading to the joke, “Shelter-in-place measures have been extended for another 10 pounds.”
Dr. Chatigny suggests limiting our sugar intake by cutting back on snack foods, canned foods, and soft drinks.
A 2019 study suggests that added sugar can trigger metabolic, inflammatory and neurobiological processes tied to depressive illness inflammation. Instead, try to find creative ways to satisfy the appetites in your home
Find an activity that appeals to you. “When we find a physical activity we like doing, we’re liable to stick with it,” Dr. Chatigny says.
This classic de-stressor practice helps us relax in a stressful world, relieves irksome pain and just generally helps us feel better.
The ancient, soothing practice can be practiced by newcomers and anyone else. No experience is required and you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start.
Our bodies release hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control its use of energy. During times of stress, proper sleep hygiene is essential to our well-being.