The global coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa in March 2020. As news of rising infections and deaths, information about the virus and Level 5 of lockdown took the country by storm, residents dutifully complied with all regulations.
Almost five months later, Government reports that many communities are not wearing masks anymore and have adopted a careless attitude towards the virus.
“We see poor or no social distancing in communities. Masks are being abandoned or not worn properly and there is laxity setting in around frequent hand washing,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told News24.
This could be due to what many are calling “COVID fatigue”. When a stressful or dangerous situation arises, the body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones aid us in coping with our circumstances to survive. However, when the stressful situation continues for prolonged periods of time, it takes its toll both physically and mentally.
“This cortisol powered ‘resistance system’ to respond to a stressor is highly effective in the short-term but it is built to turn off or downregulate only when the threat has passed,” writes Dr Rebecca S. Heiss in Psychology Today. “When a stressor persists in the manner that COVID has, our bodies are continuously flooded with cortisol. All the things that cortisol does that are adaptive in the short-term begin to wreak havoc on systems during periods of longer exposure.”
This leads to exhaustion, ultimately resulting in “COVID fatigue.” A sense of “getting used” to the virus may have led many to adopt an aloof response to warnings, as well as regulations set out by Government.
According to Dr Kaye Hermanson of the University of California, the keys to taking in the necessary information without becoming overwhelmed or fatigued lie in four essential actions:
1. Getting regular exercise to release endorphins (the so-called “happiness hormone”) and getting our minds off the immediate worries of everyday life.
2. Talking about what we feel and experience, as a means of expression instead of ignoring the ways we are affected.
3. Constructive thinking, instead of negative thinking. This includes seeing the positive sides to difficult situations.
4. Mindfulness and gratitude, which involves living in the current moment and reminding ourselves of what we do have instead of what we don’t.