As the pandemic wears on, more and more people are experiencing “pandemic fatigue“—the exhaustion that comes from dealing with intense emotions and major sources of stress caused by coronavirus. Time has begun to lose all meaning. Months fly by while weeks seem to drag on forever. Even the most dedicated social distancers are feeling their resolve wear down, despite the fact that the virus has clearly not yet been contained and their efforts will need to continue, seemingly indefinitely. But, one person has stepped forward with a much-needed ray of hope, and people across the globe are taking renewed strength from it.
Aisha Ahmad, PhD, an author and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto (among multiple other impressive roles and achievements), has traveled extensively to places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, and Lebanon to conduct fieldwork in international security. She recently took to Twitter to use her experiences of being immersed in extremely stressful and unstable environments to offer some helpful perspective on living through this extended coronavirus crisis.
The 6 month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this “new normal”, but might now feel like we’re running out of steam. Yet, at best, we are only 1/3 the way through this marathon. How can we keep going? THREAD /x— Dr Aisha Ahmad (@ProfAishaAhmad) September 20, 2020
The 6-month wall is real.
Dr. Ahmad starts by verifying that what we’re all feeling is actually really normal. “First, in my experience, this is a very normal time to struggle or slump,” she says. “I always hit a wall 6 months into a tough assignment in a disaster zone. The desire to ‘get away’ or ‘make it stop’ is intense. I’ve done this many times, and at 6 months, it’s like clockwork.”
Sound familiar? Even though most of us have made amazing strides as we’ve adapted to learning, working, shopping, and interacting in new ways, it’s still incredibly draining to keep it up long term. That’s especially understandable given that we’ve already been at it for half a year, and most of the country is headed into what feels like a pretty bleak, cold winter.
But, there’s hope.
Dr. Ahmad reminds us, “The six-month wall is not a sign you are lost or failing. It just means you are tired.”
Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing global disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle & a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.Dr. Aisha Ahmad
While she acknowledges that she hasn’t been through a pandemic before, this isn’t Dr. Ahmad’s first time dealing with the 6-month wall—and she reassures us, “there is life on the other side.” We’ve come a long way in the first six months, but as scientists have warned, Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon and the pandemic could go on for another 12-18 months. But, we’ve already learned so much about living and coping during a pandemic, we can certainly use that experience to continue to find new ways to find moments of joy in life. It might not feel easy as we stand here at the wall, but Dr. Ahmad says that in her experience, “it’s not productive to try to ram your head through it. It will break naturally in about 4-6 weeks if you ride it out.”
What can we do?
Go easy on yourself as you face what might feel like the impossible task of enduring more health scares, more economic turmoil, more of the stressful 2020 school year. It’s okay to simply mentally survive. “Just don’t expect to be sparklingly happy or wildly creative in the middle of your wall. Right now, if you can meet you obligations and be kind to your loved ones, you get an A+,” Dr. Ahmad says. You’ll find happiness and creativity again on the other side, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it right now. She suggests we “trust that the dip will pass” as we ride it out, and focus on our families’ mental health until we get through this fog.
Since physically getting away from the pandemic isn’t possible, she recommends taking short mental breaks whenever you can, even if it takes some imagination. Getting lost in a book, binging a fun Netflix series, or finally downloading that meditation app can give your mind and body the break it needs (and deserves). She suggests avoiding social media whenever possible, and creating a schedule of self care that you make a top priority.
Finally, Dr. Ahmad offers some parting words of comfort. “So, dear friends, do not despair of the 6 month wall. It’s not permanent, nor will it define you in this period of adversity. Trust that the magic that helped you through the first phase is still there. Take a breath & a pause. You’ll be on the other side in no time.”
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