Crisis fatigue thrives with COVID and Ukraine

March 15, 2022 — In casual conversation these days, you’re probably hearing, “I’m just done with COVID.”

The problem is, the virus isn’t done with us yet. Nor are the war in Ukraine, inflation or gas prices among other concerns.

The statistics two years after the pandemic are, or should be, sobering. The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States is approaching 1 million. More than 6 million have died worldwide. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the US, topped only by heart disease and cancer.

Yet in many areas there is an eagerness to put the whole thing behind us and return to normal, gradually phasing out mask mandates and vaccine verification requirements.

Therapists say some are so “done” with the pandemic that they are “emotionally numb” about it and refuse to talk or think about it anymore. And they are no longer affected by the millions that the virus has killed.

Still, those directly affected by COVID-19 — including those pushing for more help for long-term COVID-19 patients — point out that ignoring the disease is a privilege denied them.

Can Emotional Numbness Protect You?

“When there’s a lot of stress, it’s kind of a self-protective way to try not to react emotionally to everything,” says Lynn Bufka, PhD, a psychologist and spokesperson for the American Psychological Association.

But that’s hard, she says. And lately, with the ongoing stress from many sources, we’ve all been dealing with crisis fatigue.

In a Harris poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, rising prices, supply chain problems, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the potential of nuclear threats were the top stressors, along with COVID-19.

In that poll, conducted in early February, more than half of 3,012 adults surveyed said they could have used more emotional support since the pandemic began.

“It’s hard not to feel the stress of the war in Ukraine,” Bufka said. “It’s hard to see women with small children fleeing without anything.”

Likewise, it is difficult for many, especially health professionals, who have spent the past 2 years watching COVID-19 patients die, often alone.

“There’s a self-defense to trying to distance ourselves emotionally from things. So I think it’s important for people to understand why we’re doing that, but it becomes problematic when it becomes ubiquitous,” Bufka says.

When people become so emotionally numb that they stop living and interacting with loved ones, it’s harmful, she says.

But emotional numbness is a different response than feeling “down” or blue, Bufka says. “Sedation is more about not feeling,” and not having the usual reactions to experiences that are generally pleasurable, such as seeing a loved one or doing an activity we enjoy.

Psychological Anesthetic

Robert Jay Lifton, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at the City University of New York, prefers the term “psychological anesthetic.” He is credited with coining the term years ago, while interviewing survivors of the Hiroshima nuclear bombings, and wrote Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, one of his many books.

Within minutes of the bomb going off, survivors told him, “My emotions were dying.” Some had handled dead bodies, Lifton says, telling him they felt nothing.

Experiencing such disasters, including COVID-19, leaves us all vulnerable to terror, and sedation is one way to suppress it. In some ways, psychological numbness overlaps with other defense mechanisms, he says, such as denial.

Numbing affects people differently.

“You and I may undergo a significant degree of sedation from something that makes us feel threatened, but carry on with our daily lives. Others reject the full impact of the pandemic, sometimes reject its existence, and their sedation is more demanding and more extreme,” Lifton says.

He says the degree of anesthesia a person has explains “why for some the presence of a mask or the practice of distancing can be a kind of great excitement, because these precautions are a suggestion. [or reminder] of the agony associated with the pandemic.”

A step towards healing

“Emotional numbness has a negative connotation, like we’ve failed,” says Emma Kavanagh, PhD, a psychologist and author in Wales. She has a different view. “I think the brain is adapting. I think we need to focus on the possibility that it’s healing.

“It allows us to take care of survival mechanisms.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, nothing in our environment made sense and there was no mental model for how to respond, she says. The fear took over, the adrenaline soared.

“There is a reduction in circulation in the prefrontal cortex [of the brain], which influenced decision-making; people weren’t very good at making decisions,” she says.

In those early stages, emotional numbness helped people cope.

Now, 2 years later, some have entered a phase where they say, “‘I’m going to pretend this isn’t happening.’ I think right now a lot of people have been processing a lot of stress, survival level stress. We’re not built to do that over a long period of time,” says Kavanagh.

It’s often called burnout, but Kavanagh says it’s more accurate to say it’s just the brain’s way of attuning the outside world.

“A period of internal focus or withdrawal can give time to heal,” she says.

While many focus on post-traumatic stress disorder as an effect of coping with nonstop trauma, she says people are more likely to experience post-traumatic growth — successfully progressing in life — than post-traumatic stress.

In her book How to Be Broken: The Advantages of Falling Apart, Kavanagh explains how sedation or burnout can be a temporary psychological aid that helps people eventually become stronger versions of themselves.

Research suggests that at some point, concerns about the pandemic and its many victims will wane. Researchers call some people’s inability to respond to the ongoing and overwhelming number of people affected by a major emergency like COVID-19 “compassion,” with some studies showing that one person in danger can raise concern, but two in danger win It doesn’t necessarily double that concern.

Recognizing Emotional Numbness

Often, people close to those who have gone emotionally numb are the ones who recognize it, Bufka says.

“Once you recognize that this is happening, instead of jumping back into it, [totally]’, she recommends focusing on relationships you want to nurture first.

Give yourself permission not to follow the topics that stress you the most.

“We don’t have to spend all day on it,” she says.

Slow down to enjoy small experiences.

“The dogs are harassing you because they want to play with the ball. Go and play with the ball. Concentrate on the fact that the dog is super excited to play with the ball,” says Bufka.

And always look at your support system.

“I think we’ve all realized how valuable support systems are” during the pandemic, Bufka says.

Also get good rest, regular activity and time outdoors to ‘reset’. “Actively find out what you like,” she says.

For some, numbness is a denied privilege

However, Kristin Urquiza is one of the many who hasn’t had a chance to reset. After her father, Mark, 65, died of COVID, she co-founded Marked By COVID, a national nonprofit organization that advocates a National Day of Remembrance for COVID-19 every year.

“Emotional numbness to the pandemic is a privilege and another manifestation of the two radically different Americas we live in,” she says.

So far, Urquiza has called the response to the request to set up a national COVID-19 Memorial Day “limp,” though she sees the request as “a free, simple, no-obligation way to acknowledge the pain and suffering of millions.” . †

About 152 mayors have taken action to declare COVID Memorial Day the first Monday in March, the group said. US Representative Greg Stanton, D-AZ, has tabled a resolution in the House of Representatives in 2021 expressing his support for the annual memorial day.

Marked By COVID also advocates for a coordinated, national, data-driven COVID-19 response plan and the recognition that many are still dealing with COVID-19 and its effects.

Like Urquiza, many people embark on what Lifton calls a “survival mission,” in which they raise public awareness, raise funds, or contribute to research.

“Survivors in general are much more important to society than we have previously recognized,” he says.

This post Crisis fatigue thrives with COVID and Ukraine

was original published at “”