In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, people rallied to support health care and essential workers.
Hearts appeared in people’s windows. Ads ran on the internet and TV championing staying at home and flattening the curve. International videos of people singing from their balconies while quarantining went viral.
People had hope.
Six months later, the threat of the coronavirus remains, and there’s no end in sight. Those messages of optimism and togetherness have dwindled, leaving people uncertain and frustrated.
Michelle Rose-Barajas, a psychologist with Mercyhealth, said stress continues to build amid the pandemic, and that has fueled feelings of anger, exhaustion, depression, anxiety and other emotions.
For some people, it means throwing in the proverbial towel, she said.
“Some people throw their hands up and say, ‘I don’t care if I get COVID. I don’t want to live like this anymore,’” Rose-Barajas said.
The psychological phenomenon of ignoring safety precautions during times of prolonged stress existed long before the pandemic, she said.
Health officials on the local, state and national levels have attributed rising numbers of moderate and severe cases of COVID-19 partly to what officials have described as “COVID fatigue.”
People who have lived with the pandemic for months have grown tired, and they are either rejecting or relaxing on safety guidelines. Some might have started attending social gatherings, visiting local bars with friends without wearing masks, or washing their hands less frequently.
All of those behaviors can help spread the virus.
COVID fatigue is a new term for what mental health professionals have long called “caution fatigue,” which occurs when people’s minds and bodies become numb to or accepting of prolonged danger or stress, Rose-Barajas said.
People feel they have lost control, which can lead them to let their guard down as they seek a sense of normalcy.
The phenomenon is evident in people who have endured wars or lived in places with ongoing conflict, Rose-Barajas said.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in Rock County has continued to climb since the start of September.
The county has 736 active and confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up 515 since Sept. 1 and up 116 from four days ago, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.
Monday saw the most reported new cases in a given day in Rock County with 77, which brought the countywide total to 2,860.
Rock County health officials Friday said cases are increasing so quickly the health department cannot keep up on contact tracing. Officials have urged residents to follow precautions and to let people who they have been around know if they have been exposed.
Health officials nationwide have said a lack of consistent adherence to and enforcement of guidelines such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing has contributed to steady rises in cases.
“People need to keep with it (safety guidelines),” Rose-Barajas said.
Varying opinions on following prevention strategies, which are supported by science, can cause schisms in people’s social circles and frustration, anger and anxiety, Rose-Barajas said.
A sharp political divide and the upcoming presidential election have made some people’s thoughts about the pandemic more intense, Rose-Barajas said, and the upcoming winter and holiday seasons could bring additional stress.
It’s important for people to balance the risk of getting themselves and others sick and the need for social interaction, Rose-Barajas said.
She said people should prepare for limited in-person gatherings for the holidays and look to find joy in traditions, such as sending Christmas cards or chopping down a Christmas tree.
It is important to identify goals and participate in activities that bring joy, she said.
Rose-Barajas encourages people to reach out to health care providers if feelings of hopelessness, sadness or anxiety reach levels that are abnormal for them.
“Know a lot of this is normal, but it is never wrong to ask for help, especially if it impacts you on a daily basis,” she said.