Crisis fatigue holds us in a constant state of stress

Our lives are made greater by positive choices. Those decisions can be difficult to make when suffering from depression and anxiety

Hope is on the horizon. We can almost see it and feel it as we turn a corner in the fight against the pandemic. But that hope may still linger with the stubborn stress and fatigue we have also experienced over the past couple of years. We have, after all, been in a state of chronic stress since the beginning of the pandemic. This overwhelming calamity has created an imbalance in our lives with many of us struggling with crisis fatigue.

Despite a return to normality we are still within the parameters of a pandemic. The crisis has not officially ended, and we may still feel that very threat in our weary bones.

Crisis fatigue holds us in a constant state of stress. Our bodies are not used to, nor are they made for, this level of stress. When an individual stressful event occurs in our lives our bodies react with the fight or flight receptors working on overdrive to help us through the situation. Adrenaline and cortisol pump through our bodies to keep us on alert to danger, to actively protect ourselves. As the situation rectifies our hormones rebalance, our heart rate slows, and our body loosens.

Crisis fatigue, however, keeps our mind and body at a consistent high alert level with surging hormone levels. The threat remains, and we react to it. How this chronic stress reveals itself is different for us all, but we may experience it in a number of ways.


There are physical symptoms of crisis fatigue including headaches, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and worsening of other chronic conditions such as hypertension. We may have physical aches and pains, along with nausea or dizzy spells.

The emotional upheaval of this crisis fatigue can continually be experienced with fluctuating moods, especially in relation to the lifting of restrictions or fear of the unknown. We may be agitated, irritable, frustrated, or experience heightened depression or anxiety.


These physical and emotional symptoms are compounded by a lack of focus, consistently worrying, feeling insecure or experiencing low self-esteem. We may increasingly feel lethargic or fatigued. As such, because of these varying symptoms, how we interact with our loved ones and those closest to us may change. We may withdraw more, sleep more or suffer insomnia. Agitation may encourage us to bite our nails more, become compulsive in handwashing, or even become impulsive or reckless.

Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist, couples counsellor, and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook, says "the sense of 'overwhelm' associated with macro events such as the Covid pandemic or climate change can trigger despair and a sense that as one single individual it's impossible to make a difference and therefore the person feels stuck and useless. This is a psychological state known as learned helplessness, a state which develops when a person has accepted that they have no control over a situation and thus give up trying."

Long-term stress leaves us at risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. We are at risk of poor self-esteem, staying in toxic relationships or long-term depression. Changing our mindset and actively working with what we have control of in our lives can limit the effect of crisis fatigue.


“In the face of a crisis,” says Burke, “we can lose sight of the fact that there are so many areas of our life that we do have control over. In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum I worked with many clients who were sad, angry and or disappointed over the outcome. Some of them vented their frustration both on and offline.

“However, one of them did something different. Following several weeks glued to her phone in a social media bubble, reading and sharing material that just compounded her sense of anger and despair, she decided she wanted to channel her frustration in a productive way and step out of her sense of ‘helplessness’. “While Brexit was a done deal, she wanted to ensure that in the future she could get involved in campaigning on issues that were important to her.

"Another client who felt very distressed by the refugee crisis in Europe signed up to volunteer as an English teacher for refugee kids. Both felt enormous relief to step out of their social media echo chambers. They no longer ranted online. Instead they used their precious time, energy, and talents to take action and affect change."

Managing our exposure to the stress of the world can be supported by:

Limiting screen time. Social media apps have heightened the unbalanced conversation on many high profile worldwide disasters and emergencies. In fact our media use has skyrocketed since the pandemic began. We have found ourselves constantly connected which we know does not alleviate anxiety or benefit our mental wellbeing. Disconnect and unplug with small breaks to recharge your mental capacity which will help you to filter the online world when you find yourself scrolling.

Restructure your world. Between working from home, avoiding certain places for fear of crowds, and altering our lifestyles to suit the restrictions, our present-day structure has altered significantly. This structure has created isolation, loneliness and a significant lack of control. As restrictions lighten we are in a flux of whether we should jump in head first and live our lives while also ingrained with this new inbuilt fear and worry. At this stage we are rebuilding and restructuring our world. Look for what will support your wellbeing and what you are capable of. Take time to reintegrate while also ensuring you include exercise, social connections and daily routines that relieve stress.

Seek Help. Crisis fatigue may need intervention with the support of a mental health professional. As feelings of hopelessness emerge, we may experience suicidal thoughts or self-harm. The lack of control over intense and physical worldwide emergencies can greatly hinder our belief that we have any say over our own life. Speak to someone you trust and seek help. The intense nature of crisis fatigue can affect our working and personal lives, but we do not need to wait that long to find the help we need.

Our lives are made greater by the positive choices we make. Those decisions can be difficult to make, however, when suffering from crisis fatigue, or depression and anxiety. We have not been alone in experiencing chronic stress and we are not alone in finding answers, support, guidance and help.

“We would do well to heed the words of the AA prayer - ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, ... courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’,” says Burke, “By challenging ourselves to really discern between what is within our sphere of influence and what lies without, we can make better choices from the news we consume, what we get hooked into conversationally, and how we channel our energy.”

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