With COVID & Ukraine, Crisis Fatigue Thrives

March 15, 2022 – In casual conversation these days, you’re likely to hear, “I just got over COVID.”

The problem is, the virus isn’t done with us yet. No war in Ukraine, no inflation, no gas prices, among other things. The statistics for 2 years after the start of the pandemic are sobering or should be sobering. The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the US is approaching 1 million. globally, over 6 million died from it. In 2020, COVID-19 was third biggest reason death rate in the US, second only to heart disease and cancer.

However, in many areas, there is a drive to put all this behind us and return to normal life. While abandoning mask requirements and vaccine testing along the way. Therapists say some are so “tired” of the pandemic that they are “emotionally numb” to it. Refusing to discuss or think about it anymore. And they are no longer touched by the millions who have been killed by the virus. However, those who have been directly affected by COVID-19. Including those who are pushing for more care for long-term COVID patients. Note that ignoring illness is a privilege denied to them.

Can emotional numbness protect you?

“When there’s a lot of stress, it’s a kind of self-protection to try not to feel an emotional reaction. To all, says Lynn Bufka. Ph.D., psychologist, and spokesman for the American Psychological Association. But it’s hard to do, she says. And lately, due to constant stress from many sources. We are all facing crisis fatigue.

IN Harris Poll done on behalf of the American Psychological Association,

Rising prices, supply chain issues, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And potential nuclear threats were top stressors, along with COVID-19. In this early February survey, more than half of the 3,012 adults surveyed said. They could use more emotional support since the start of the pandemic. “It’s hard not to be stressed out by the war in Ukraine,” says Bufka. “It’s hard to see women with small children running away with nothing.” Similarly, it is difficult for many. Especially healthcare workers who have spent the last 2 years watching COVID-19 patients die, often alone. “There is self-protection to try to emotionally distance yourself from things. So I think it’s important for people to understand Why we do it, but it becomes problematic when it becomes ubiquitous,” says Bufka.

When people become so emotionally numb that they stop participating in life and connecting with loved ones, it’s harmful, she says. But emotional numbness is a different response than feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, Bufka says. “Numbness has more to do with a lack of feeling” and a lack of normal responses to events that are normally pleasurable, such as meeting a loved one or doing some activity that we enjoy.

mental numbness

Robert Jay Lifton, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry and psychology at the City University of New York, prefers the term “mental numbness coined the term a few years ago while interviewing Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors and wrote Death in Life: Hiroshima Survivorsamong his many books.

Within minutes of the bomb being detonated, the survivors told him, “My emotions have faded.” According to Lifton, some of them touched dead bodies and told him they didn’t feel anything. Experiencing such disasters, including COVID-19, leaves us all vulnerable to the fear of death, and being numb is a way to quell it. He says that in a sense, mental numbness overlaps with other defense mechanisms such as denial.

Numbness affects people in different ways.

“You and I may be subject to a significant degree of numbness due to something that threatens us, but we continue our daily lives. Others reject the full impact of the pandemic, sometimes indeed sometimes reject its existence, and their numbness is more demanding and more extreme,” says Lifton. He says the degree of numbness someone has explains “why for some, the mere presence of a mask or the practice of distancing can be a kind of intense thrill, because these precautions are a suggestion.” [or reminder] the fear of death associated with the pandemic.”

Stepping stone to healing

“Emotional numbness has a negative connotation, as if we have failed,” says Emma Kavanagh, PhD, a Welsh psychologist and writer. She has a different look. “I think the brain is adapting. I think we need to focus on the possibility of healing him. “It allows us to take care of the survival mechanisms.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, nothing in our environment made sense, she said, and there was no mental model of how to respond. Fear took over, and adrenaline went through the roof. “There is a decrease in blood circulation in the prefrontal cortex [of the brain], so the decision was influenced; people weren’t that good at making decisions,” she says.

In these 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 at this point a lot of people have gone through a lot of stress, survival stress. We are not designed to do this for a long period of time,” Kavanagh says. It’s often called burnout, but Kavanagh says it’s more accurate to say it’s just the brain’s way of attuning to the outside world.

“A period of inner focus or withdrawal can allow time for healing,” she says.

While many focus on PTSD as the result of ongoing trauma, she says that people are more likely to have PTSD — to move successfully through life — than PTSD. In her book How to be Broken: The Benefits of Breaking UpKavanagh explains how numbness or burnout can be a temporary psychological tool to help people eventually become a stronger version of themselves.

Research shows that at some point, worries about the pandemic and its many victims are bound to subside. The researchers call the failure of some people to respond to the ongoing and overwhelming number of people affected by a major emergency such as COVID-19. “compassion fades” some studies show that one person in danger can cause anxiety, but two in danger will not necessarily double that anxiety.

Recognizing emotional numbness

  • Often people who are close to those who are emotionally numb recognize this, Bufka said.
  • “Once you realize that this is happening, instead of jumping back [totally]she recommends focusing on the relationship you want to pursue first.
  • Give yourself permission not to follow the topics that cause you the most stress.
  • “We don’t have to do this all day long,” she says.
  • Slow down to enjoy a little experience.
  • “Dogs annoy you because they want to play ball. Go and play ball. Concentrate on the fact that the dog really enjoys playing ball,” Bufka says.
  • And always pay attention to your support system.
  • “I think we have all realized how valuable support systems are during a pandemic,” says Bufka.

Also, get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and spend time outdoors to “reboot.” “Actively seek out what you like,” she says.

For some, numbness is a privilege denied

However, Christine Urquiza is one of many who didn’t have the opportunity to reboot. After her father, Mark, 65, died of COVID, she co-founded Marked By COVID, a national non-profit group that advocates annually for a national day of remembrance for COVID-19. “Emotional indifference to the pandemic is a privilege and another manifestation of the two radically different Americas we live in,” she says. So far, Urquiza has described the response to the request for a national COVID-19 memorial day as “tepid”, though she sees the request as “a free, easy, unconditional way to acknowledge the pain and suffering of millions of people.” .”

Some 152 mayors have taken action to designate the first Monday in March as COVID-19 Memorial Day, according to the group. U.S. Representative Greg Stanton, D-AZ, submitted a resolution in 2021 in the House of Representatives, expressing support for the annual Memorial Day. Marked By COVID also advocates for a data-driven, coordinated national COVID-19 response plan and recognizes that many are still dealing with COVID-19 and its effects.

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

“Survivors as a whole are much more important to society than we previously thought,” he says.

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