This is your brain on stress: what you need to know about COVID-19 fatigue

How to lower stress and stay vigilant


It’s been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and although vaccines provide incredible hope for the future, the fatigue of staying vigilant against COVID-19 is proving to be too much for many who are letting their guard down when it comes to keeping themselves safe.

Whether it’s not wearing a mask around others, washing hands less frequently, or being more relaxed on social distancing guidelines, many people are starting to loosen their own safety practices.

The reason may be due to COVID-19 fatigue, which experts at McLaren Greater Lansing say is a result of the natural process of desensitization and also long-term, chronic stress.

“When we first perceive something to be really dangerous but have continued exposure to it, we begin to habituate and it becomes less and less attention grabbing,” said Anatol Tolchinsky, PhD, LP, McLaren Greater Lansing Director of Medical Education and Clinical Health Psychologist. “It’s part of the human condition to become desensitized and perceive things as not being as dangerous as they really are over time.” It is important to note that, although it may not grab our attention anymore, it can still cause harm to the mind and body, like in the case of COVID-19.

So, what steps can you take to help fight mental fatigue and stress caused by COVID-19? Dr. Tolchinsky says it can start with simple things like sticking to a schedule and focusing on activities to help reduce stress when you’re at home.

Set yourself up for sleep success

“Routine is important for everyone,” said Dr. Tolchinsky. “When you have routine, your body responds by shutting down at a certain time to allow for better sleep, which can have a tremendous positive impact on your mental wellbeing.” These routines can also impact safety practices.

Keeping your phone outside of your bedroom, sticking to a set bedtime, and not watching TV in bed are some of the ways you can begin to establish good sleep routines. Dr. Tolchinsky also recommends giving yourself time to get your day started before you pick up your phone to fend off stress when you first wake up.

Get up and get active

As impactful as rest is, physical activity can be just as important to keeping your brain sharp and focused at any age. Finding any type of exercise that can be done while following social distancing guidelines can help fight off the feelings of being cooped up and give your mental outlook a boost.

Take time to reconnect

Making a phone call to an old friend, catching up with family members, or playing a board game over a video chat can all help remind us that we will be able to get together again in the future.

Learn new stress reduction techniques

There are many well-researched techniques that have been shown to effectively reduce stress, such as diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and many other mindfulness-based approaches. These can also help with lowering pain and helping with sleep.

If you are working from home, set up a home office

One area many people struggle with is the ability to separate work from home, which is a serious hindrance for work-life balance and can cause stress. It can be extremely helpful to find a designated space where you handle working from home.

Start a post-COVID-19 “bucket” list

What are some of the things you miss and are looking forward to doing in the future when restrictions are lowered and it is safe to resume previous activities? Having goals and things to look forward to can be a major key to remaining optimistic and motivated to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Get professional help

Medical services have adapted to COVID-19, and there are many more opportunities for telehealth visits. If you are experiencing symptoms beyond regular stress, there are many effective treatments you can engage in from the safety of your home, such as medications or talk therapy. The stress-relieving techniques mentioned above can also be learned through talk therapy. This is especially important for those with existing mental health issues prior to the beginning of COVID-19.

For more easy ways to make healthy changes in your life, along with the latest medical updates and news from McLaren Greater Lansing, click here.

About McLaren Greater Lansing

McLaren Greater Lansing and McLaren Orthopedic Hospital operate the region’s most distinguished cardiovascular and orthopedic surgery programs that—together with McLaren Greater Lansing’s oncology, women’s care, and wide-ranging diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical services—consistently lead in clinical quality and efficiency. The hospitals are part of McLaren Health Care, Mid-Michigan’s largest health care system. Visit