It’s been nearly 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic first started impacting our daily lives. Lockdowns, curfews, varying levels of restriction affecting how we live and work, all contributing to what is now being called Pandemic Fatigue, or Pandemic-Related Mental Fatigue.
This prolonged global crisis has no doubt changed our perspectives of the world we live in, and our ability to operate effectively in that world. We may find ourselves feeling disempowered to influence positive change in our relationships, workplaces, and local communities because of the sheer magnitude of the impact the pandemic has had on us. But perhaps there’s a way to manage Pandemic-Related Mental Fatigue, embrace our agency, engage the power of our imagination and develop our Emotional Intelligence to build a better life.
Paul Thagard, Ph.D. describes Pandemic Fatigue as “a complex set of emotions that include boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, and resentment, all brought on by the loss of activities and social relations produced by pandemic restrictions.” In the workplace, this could look like you being more irritable with your colleagues than usual, or simple tasks that are usually easy to complete may now seem significantly more difficult for you to do.
The problem with this particular moment is that it feels like we’ve been here before. We’ve dealt with the changes in protocols and restrictions multiple times, and our minds and bodies remember how it felt, so we are reliving some of the pain experienced over the last 18 months. For example, in a South African context, during the first hard lockdown in 2020, you may have enjoyed the opportunity to work from home, embracing the flexibility, and the lack of interruptions from people showing up at your desk, needing your attention.
However now, when working from home has become the norm, perhaps the novelty of it has worn off and it’s become a symbol of the continued restrictions, a reminder of how long ago you’ve seen extended family members, and an indicator of all the negative emotions you felt in 2020. This sense of negative déjà vu can make you feel powerless. But is there any scientific evidence for this sensation?
Understanding What Keeps you Stuck
Let’s look at some research done by Martin Seligman who conducted an experiment, as part of his Ph.D. clinical psychology research, on pain and what a normal response to pain is. What he wanted to do was understand the mechanics of how we typically respond to pain and why.
First, he put two dogs on one side of the dog kennel and administered a mild electric shock, enough to be quite uncomfortable for the dogs. Of course, they had a very natural response to the pain and jumped across to the other side to escape the shockwaves. Then he closed the partition separating one side from the other, and in essence created a systematic lockdown so that they would not be able to move to the other side when the electric shock was administered.
When the dogs realized that they couldn’t get away from the pain, in other words, they were literally locked down, they eventually just lay down in the most comfortable position and just took the shock. However, when he reopened the partition, or ended the lockdown and administered the electric shock again, the dogs did not move to the other side despite the fact that the barrier had been reopened.
Seligman called this learned helplessness. The dogs had learned that they were helpless, that nothing they did could help them to get away from the environment they were in.
This applies to our context in that we are constantly grappling with new restrictions and challenges as we navigate this season, and have perhaps lost our ability to see that there is a way out, a way to reimagine our future and gain a fresh perspective on our present. Myrow Chief Humanising Officer, Theran Knighton-Fitt says that we can find ourselves in a place where we, “cannot imagine something different [because our] imagination has been straitjacketed for so long,” rendering us unable to chart a course to build a better life.
Shift Your Paradigm with Emotional Intelligence
Though we face the prevailing feelings of pain, helplessness, and frustration, we have the opportunity to break free from learned helplessness by embracing our agency, engaging the power of our imagination, and developing our Emotional Intelligence.
From Seligman’s research, we can see the impact of the system on our perspective of pain, so it would be natural for us to want to try to change the system to alleviate our pain. However, when the required systemic change is on a governmental level, it is nearly impossible to make the change as an individual.
Mygrow CEO, Mark Baker explains it this way, “[our efforts are futile when] we spend time trying to fix systemic issues because it is so hard to scale help to the individuals who we call the agents. Psychologists have shown us quite clearly that the way to change some of the major problems we have in the world, or even just in our own world, is by fixing the psychology of the agents.”
In other words, embracing your own agency and working towards fixing your individual psychology will have a greater impact on the effects of the systemic issues, than only changing the system.
Once you’ve embraced your agency, it’s important to engage the power of your imagination.
Although you may think using your imagination is a childish exercise, you may be missing out on the power of an important aspect of your humanity. Albert Einstein once said, “imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited.”
The truth is your imagination has the power to help you imagine your situation in one way or another. Your imagination can produce positive or negative pictures of your current reality and send you into upward or downward spirals, but the good news is that you are in control of your own imagination.
Being able to take charge of where you are, how you perceive the future looking and create that in your imagination, is an integral part of managing Pandemic-Related Fatigue. And when you take the time to develop your Emotional Intelligence, you increase your ability to harness the power of imagination to reimagine your world.
“In other words, how do we restore ourselves to be these agents that are able to effectively respond to the world and be amazing, imaginative humans? Well, we need to implement Emotional Intelligence techniques over time, rewiring our brains and rewriting our stories,” Mark Baker, Mygrow CEO.
As you develop your Emotional Intelligence, you are working towards learning to overcome learned helplessness and exercise the agency you have, harnessing the power of your imagination in order to overcome Pandemic-Related Fatigue and contribute positively to your environment.
Mygrow helps you to develop the skills you need to flourish at work and in life. It does this by methodically building Emotional Intelligence using daily online 10-minute sessions. These sessions involve the techniques that rewire neural pathways in the emotional centres of the brain over time, helping you interact with your world in new and positive ways.