#MentalHealth: At the COVID-19 crossroads; Lockdown Fatigue

WHEN COVID-19 started to spread across the continent a lot of people thought it would be over in a few months. In no time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic. Countries started implementing WHO guidelines to “flatten the curve.”

By Dr Kudakwashe Muchena

Five months after Zimbabwe recorded its first positive case resulting in a lockdown in March to try and manage the pandemic, we are still not yet at the peak. Several people thought that getting through the COVID-19 pandemic would be a sprint and not a marathon.

They were talking about “getting over this and going back to our normal lives”. Five months in, I think it is fair to say it is more akin to the Victoria Fall Marathon or the Two Oceans Marathon. With COVID-19 information and safety guidelines constantly changing, we find ourselves exhausted as we stare, wide-eyed and full of emotions, into a future of unknowns.

The WHO warns of a coming wave of very real mental health conditions made worse by our current reality of lockdown as well as being a low resourced country with few health facilities.

I still vividly remember the weekend before the lockdown, people went on a shopping spree, buying all types of food stuffs and beverages. Some even bragged that they have stocked enough alcohol to last them a month, others hired or downloaded movies, while others collected recipes of all kinds of dishes. We all had a plan, but the plan was just for three weeks or a month at most. Its now five months later, no more talk about stoking beer, cookbooks, exercising manuals etc., we now live by the day. What is now keeping us going is hope.

The lockdown has stretched our mental strength and If we are going to make it through this difficult time with our psychological wellbeing intact, we are going to need mental and emotional stamina in order to have enough stores of this important resource. Already the rate of reported cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) has increased, divorce rates are on the increase too and not mentioning the trauma and common mental health disorders (CMD) caused by job loss or loss of income for those informally employed.

We need to keep focused. Like I said, this is a marathon and the pandemic is now getting worse with each day making it difficult for the government to consider lifting the lockdown restrictions. For us to go through this we all need to get intentional about setting appropriate limits in certain areas of our lives and being proactive about our emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

The disruption to our daily routines has left many of us in a spin. Having to decide how-to live-in lockdown, and with little guidance on the best way to do it, is mentally exhausting. Whether schooling children at home or facing many months living alone, lockdown has proven to be challenging for large numbers of people. At the beginning of April, a lot of people were in favour of lockdown measures being prioritised to protect health rather than the economy.

Now it’s the very same people who are saying they cannot cope well with a lockdown especially now that it has become stricter with the rising cases of local infections and deaths. More recent observations, however, suggests that adherence to lockdown measures has begun to wane even though restrictions were not eased. Clearly, the lockdown has tested people’s patience to the limit.

If you do not feel like taking continuous work calls, helping children with home schooling, not exercising anymore, or do anything for that matter, you may be suffering from what the experts call ‘lockdown fatigue’. Just like a car, if not driven, runs out of battery, humans face fatigue if they do not move around. It’s mental fatigue and not physical fatigue.

Stress is toxic and is plentiful when we feel out of control. There is such a thing as optimal stress which helps us stay engaged and motivated and drives us to perform. Burn out, fatigue, and hopelessness, however, can result when stress is too intense or prolonged.

Some helpful home remedy tips to stay mentally healthy  may include; getting serious about apportioning your living spaces for work, rest, and play, it is important for managing stress. Similarly, the creation of clear and consistent boundaries regarding the amount of time you spend working is crucial. When everything is mixed, you tend to work more than you might otherwise, and your work is also constantly with you. This is true of school as well.

Clarifying our boundaries around space and time and committing to keeping them can help you manage your stress. So can the development of a meditating or breathing practice, psychotherapy, consistent recreational connection to friends, exercise,  fresh air and nature.

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