At the start of the pandemic, we rallied, sending rolls of toilet paper to our loved ones and handing out fruit to delivery drivers. Today, living under a blanket of restrictions has become a way of life, a daily routine of risk calculation and prudence. But cases are skyrocketing around the world again, and many people are suffering from what some call “pandemic fatigue”. As my colleagues wrote, “The rituals of hope and unity that helped people endure the first wave of the virus have given way to exhaustion and frustration.” Everywhere you turn, there is a feeling of burnout, which is even more pronounced for essential and frontline workers.
The stakes are high, especially as the end of the year holidays approach. Governor Gavin Newsom recently introduced a new set of guidelines for mass gatherings, limiting them to three households at a time.
I spoke to Elissa Epel, a professor at the University of California, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, San Francisco, about how to prevent pandemic fatigue from sliding into dangerous behavior. Dr Epel also maintains a website on coping resources during the pandemic.
Here are some of the main points of our conversation.
Stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression are on the rise.
A recent study showed that rates of depression increased three times as much during the pandemic, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of American adults reported problems with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse at the end June.
However, Dr Epel said that states of psychological distress that resemble depression and anxiety are not necessarily psychiatric disorders in the classic sense.
“It’s a normal response to what’s going on,” she says.
Adverse mental health effects are linked to being in a situation of chronic stress, especially for people whose lives have been severely disrupted by illness, financial stress or essential work.
Burnout from a pandemic, in which essential workers and services are stressed to the point that they can no longer do their jobs, can also occur from caring for others. Dr Epel said that for these people they cannot continue working in a system that creates burnout and heals itself at the same time.
“The system has to find ways to really help people recover and have more time to take care of themselves,” she said.
The type of fatigue that the general population has experienced may be related to physical health issues or common psychological stressors. Dr Epel suggests limiting exposure to upsetting news and being kind to yourself and others who are experiencing emotional distress.
There are things you can do to deal with it.
Everyone should think about what self-care means for themselves, said Dr Epel. She said this definition was different for everyone. For some, this can mean getting a lot of good quality sleep. For others, self-care means long nature walks or exercise.
Preventing long periods of sedentary behavior can also help most people.
“Creating stress on the body that we ultimately recover from creates more energy, not less,” she says. “Walking with a partner wearing a mask is like solving two essential pandemic needs, both social and physical.”
Failure to follow the rules will only make lockouts more likely.
People may tire of social distancing and decide to start living again as they did before the pandemic.
Dr Epel cautions against this. “It’s an understandable answer, but it’s far from a solution. If anything, it will prolong our period of social stress and fatigue, ”she said.
Instead, she encourages people to be physically and materially prepared, which is actually a healthy way to cope. Being prepared helps people gain a little control over a totally unpredictable situation.
Dr Epel wrote in an editorial that moderate anxiety is actually a good thing, as it prompts us to take self-protective measures like washing our hands and wearing a mask.
“Social distancing is a reduction in anxiety,” she said. “Anxiety right now is normal. And that’s good because it serves a function. It pushes us to be safe, pushes us to adapt, to cope, to keep our social distances. “
Prepare for a new way of life.
According to Harvard University’s School of Public Health, the same forces that worsen climate change also increase the risk of future pandemics. The pandemic has challenged our way of life in a way that no other event has. But Dr Epel said she believes there is great potential for positive change that could result.
“If the glass is half empty and half full, it’s both,” she said. “We have suffered tremendous losses and irreversible changes, but that’s only half the picture.”
In a kind of reversal of a dynamic that defined the summer, rates of new coronavirus cases in California have plummeted and have remained relatively low, even as the virus has increased in other states.
The country’s most populous state on Wednesday averaged 3,294 new cases per day over the past week, up from a peak of more than 10,000 in late July, when Governor Newsom ordered most domestic businesses to shut down. again to stem the tide. .
“Nothing is constant,” he said at the time. “Nothing is linear when it comes to infectious diseases.”
Today, California’s per capita new case rate over the past week is lower than all but six of the states.
This month’s figures have encouraged validation of the state’s second major plan to allow businesses to reopen, after the first was criticized as too permissive, confusing and unevenly enforced by local officials across the varied geography of California.
Many counties struggling with an alarming number of cases over the summer have seen significant declines.
Alameda County’s seven-day average through Wednesday for new daily cases was less than 100 after reaching 300 in August. The San Diego County average over the same period was less than 300 new cases per day, up from a peak of over 500 in July.
California has also scaled up testing significantly – it averages over 120,000 tests per day – and the governor previously announced a partnership with diagnostic company PerkinElmer to double the state’s testing capacity, which it says , will be operational in the coming days.
Yet Mr Newsom and other California officials pleaded with locals not to be complacent. And this week, he warned Californians not to get “too exuberant” about the prospect of a vaccine, which he said the state would independently review before making it available.
About two-thirds of Californians polled in a recent California Public Policy Institute poll expressed concern that vaccine development is progressing too quickly.
Uber and Lyft must treat their California drivers like employees, Providing them with the benefits and wages to which they are entitled under state labor law, a California appeals court ruled Thursday. [The New York Times]
The decision adds urgency to the results of Proposition 22. To learn more about the measurement of the ballot, click here. [The New York Times]
State Senator Scott Wiener wrote about what he learned after being targeted by QAnon to do its job. [New York Times Opinion]
California greenhouse gas emissions have increased slightly in 2018, the most recent count. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Despite the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, California home prices hit record highs. [The Sacramento Bee]
Quibi, the besieged short-form content company founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, announced on Wednesday that it was closing just six months after the app was made available. [The New York Times]
Sonoma County is the only Bay Area county stuck in the most restrictive level, to the frustration of public health officials, community organizers and businesses. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. PT on weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Have you been forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at UC Berkeley, and has reported statewide, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles – but she still wants to see more. Follow us here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from UC Berkeley.