Frustration, hopelessness: Dealing with COVID-19 fatigue in another round of tighter restrictions
SINGAPORE: The recent return to tighter COVID-19 restrictions has left some feeling frustrated, hopeless and disappointed – the emotional effects of pandemic fatigue.
Mental health experts CNA spoke to said that these feelings are a result of things going south just when they were looking up.
Dr Thong Jiunn Yew, a psychiatrist at Nobel Psychological Wellness Clinic, said that when daily COVID-19 infections dropped to low single digits, there was optimism. People started to plan for travelling and businesses began to ramp up their operations.
But then large COVID-19 clusters emerged and restrictions were tightened.
“Such changes cause disappointment and people may feel a sense of frustration and helplessness,” Dr Thong said.
“They may also feel a sense of loss of control. Some feel that even by obeying the rules, clusters still appeared and numbers went up.”
Singapore returned to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) on Jul 22, following the emergence of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, the country’s largest active cluster with 1,097 cases as of noon on Tuesday (Aug 3).
Under these restrictions that are set to last until Aug 18, dining in at F&B outlets is suspended and social gatherings are limited to two people. They kicked in 10 days after the start of more relaxed measures that allowed up to five people to gather and dine in.
Dr Thong said many people may feel uncertain about the future and not sure about the next step to take.
“I see this in many patients who are unable to decide on education or career plans. This uncertainty has caused significant anxiety. In individuals with anxiety disorders, these changes increase apprehension and anxiety,” he said.
COPING WITH CHANGES
Counsellor at Mind what Matters Clarice Ng said that while the pandemic has built greater resilience and adaptability in people, the return to tighter restrictions might "cause people to lose a sense of mastery and hope, deepening feelings of hopelessness and helplessness".
With every change in restrictions, usual coping mechanisms can become ineffective, requiring people to find alternatives, she said.
“This requires time as well as emotional and mental resources. With frequent changes, we do not really have time to adjust and adapt. This can lead to a consistent looming sense of uncertainty, paralysing us mentally and emotionally."
On the other hand, Dr Thong said that many Singaporeans have adjusted to the COVID-19 restrictions and may show minimal distress.
“Most people are resilient and the Government has been proactive in providing aid to lessen the impact on those who are negatively affected,” he said.
WHO MAY BE MORE AFFECTED?
The mental health experts pointed to some groups who may be more affected by the return to tighter restrictions – people with pre-existing mental health conditions and seniors – especially those living alone, non-residents who are away from their families and those who have suffered significant setbacks in finances and work.
But no one is spared from the emotional effects of pandemic fatigue, said Ms Sara-Ann Lee, senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health.
“We need to remember that everybody is having a tough time and has their difficulties, even if we cannot see it,” she said.
Ms Lee said that people can manage their mental health by focusing on the physical, psychological and social aspects of well-being.
These include keeping to a regular routine despite working from home, setting aside time to exercise and limiting the amount of information or time spent reading the news to prevent themselves from being overwhelmed.
Taking time out for self-care activities such as watching the sunset and baking, and supporting others in the community could also help, Ms Lee said.
Professor Kua Ee Heok, a psychiatrist at Mind Care Clinic in Farrer Park Hospital, suggested practising mindfulness.
“If you're taught some methods of mindfulness or relaxation, carry on with it and have a break in terms of going out to the park for a walk or listen to music," he said.
Dr Thong suggested taking up new hobbies to “keep oneself interested and happy and to break monotony”. He cited examples such as gardening and taking up a sport like cycling. Spirituality could be useful as well, as “it gives meaning to the current circumstances and a sense of calmness amidst the chaos”.
“Try to maintain optimism as, like all other things, the pandemic situation will eventually subside,” he said.