Responding to

"Our fatigue is often caused not by work,
but by worry, frustration and resentment."

Dale Carnegie
Fatigue. It's a word that seems to be coming up a lot these days. Early on in the pandemic, it was "caution fatigue." That was followed by "crisis fatigue," then "stress fatigue," and then "compassion fatigue."

The latest term I came across is "pandemic fatigue," the idea that, over time, we get so tired of the warnings and precautions we've been hearing that we let our guard down. It's as if we simply don't care any more. For what seems like an eternity, we've been asked to wear face masks, stay away from loved ones, and avoid public places in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. As we enter a new season and hear new warnings about the likelihood of increased rates of infection, experts are now sounding the alarm about pandemic fatigue.

Psychologists say that as we adjust to a threat our stress levels drop. But infectious disease experts say we have to continue doing everything we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It's like we're running an ultra-marathon - one of those 100 mile races that seem to go on forever. According to the CDC, the best way to keep the virus under control is by wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene. To fight the fatigue, they suggest we find new ways to excite ourselves, like buying a new face mask or finding a new way to be social while remaining physically distant.

It isn't easy. For one thing, I've never found the act of buying a face mask to be particularly exciting or up-lifting. And now, although the choices have grown exponentially with even high-end fashion designers offering dazzling designer face masks, I find the need for them to be a bit tiresome.

Continued uncertainty is hard for any of us to handle. We are running an ultra-marathon, but we don't know how far we're supposed to run. And it's hard to pace ourselves when we don't know the end point. Coping requires some long-term strategies.

One useful strategy is to take charge of our own well-being. Self-care is not optional. We also can't expect anyone else - not our spouse, our family members, our friends, or even the most caring employer - to be responsible for keeping us comfortable. That responsibility belongs to us alone.

Another strategy is to set attainable goals for our well-being and implement a plan to work toward those goals. They might include exercise, meditation, nutrition, yoga, mindfulness, prayer, gardening, connections with others, music, reading, or other forms of restoration. And once we find the right match for ourselves, we need to do it regularly.

Plan and use "down-time" (or paid time-off, if we're employed) to recharge. Many of us view vacations as going somewhere exciting or exotic. That may not be realistic for the foreseeable future. Enjoy experiences with family, friends, and pets.

Take a vacation from the news and social media. The constant barrage of troubling and sensational headlines can be overwhelming. For most of us, there is little need to know the daily tally of coronavirus infections and deaths. Political discord will continue whether we follow it every day or not.

Seek diversions that are healing. We should use some of our time intentionally and do things that give us pleasure and meaning.

Create some predictable routines. By focusing on managing the things over which we have control, such as our daily schedules, we can create patterns and routines that can be calming.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must be kind to ourselves as we adjust to the ever-changing challenges life seems to have handed us.
Infectious disease experts keep reminding us that the end of the pandemic won't coincide with the end of 2020. And the end won't be like a light-switch that is suddenly turned off because of the discovery of an effective vaccine. "The end of the pandemic will be an evolution, not a revolution, the vaccine just another powerful tool in that process," writes Elizabeth Ralph in Politico.

While the experts concede there are still quite a few unknowns in their pandemic forecasts, most agree that it won't be until early next year that an effective vaccine, perhaps more than one, will be approved for distribution in the US. Furthermore, producing and distributing any vaccine will take months, meaning the average American won't receive their dose (or doses) until the middle or end of 2021. And while widespread inoculation will play a large role in bringing life back to normal, getting the shot will not be a cue to take off our masks and run carefree into a crowded bar. For one thing, the vaccine won't work for everyone so not everyone will be immune. The return to "normal" will be a much slower journey.

Long distance runners often talk about experiencing a "second wind," a point when they're out of breath and too tired to continue and they suddenly find the strength to press on at top performance. If the pandemic is our ultra-marathon, we may need to help each other find that second wind.

Some of you may have heard that Kitchen Angels began a new initiative recently called Caring Callers. Volunteers call clients to just check in and find out how things are going. Not surprisingly, the callers seem to get as much out of the conversations as do the clients.  One volunteer recently observed, “We never seem to run out of things to talk about. Since she has lived in Santa Fe for over 40 years, I benefit from always learning something new about the city. We really enjoy sharing our past and our daily lives together.”

My point is that simply checking in with others can often help us make it through tedious or difficult times. If we're working on self-care (or other) goals, regular check-ins can help keep us motivated. Knowing that we're not alone can frequently be all that's needed to take the edge off our stress and keep going.

Running a marathon is difficult for even the most trained athlete. It's even more difficult when we didn't know we'd be asked to run one and weren't given an opportunity to prepare. Nevertheless, it's what we need to do right now. If we can show ourselves some of the encouragement and compassion we show our clients every day, I'm confident we'll make it to the end of this long-distance endurance test successfully.

The Kitchen Angels family is an extraordinary group of people who have cared for vulnerable and "invisible" members of our community for nearly three decades. Caring for others is something we do well. These days, it's important we remember to care for ourselves, too.

To each of you and the entire Kitchen Angels family, thank you for all you do, every day, to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.

In gratitude,
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.