COV-ERLOAD

By: Stuart White 19-03-2021

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,


COV-ERLOAD

On a Thursday morning it’s not unusual for me to sit staring blankly at my computer screen trying to decide what to write about. It’s easy when I can take some current affairs topic and expand on it or give my opinion on something I have read in the tabloids. Sometimes I mull over what I have not covered for a while and that’s what took hold of me this morning as I thought about writing about the post-Covid world of work. The problem was however that every time I thought about remote working, social distancing, altered work conditions ... I felt as though the energy was being sucked out of me. The cliché ‘being over it’ comes to mind. 

We are all fatigued by COVID because as businesses, managers, employees and public we have had to manage dual economic and health crises, that have required new protocols and changes included: remote working on a scale never seen before, a complete overhaul of supply chains, businesses and industries going bust and so on. Not to mention, though I shall, no alcohol, entertainment, gym, signing in and out of shops, rushing home before curfew and, and, and... All that has been thought, spoken and written about for what feels like forever, is  COVID.

When the pandemic started, I think I felt somewhat emboldened by the challenge of it all, frequently and enthusiastically washing my hands and greeting others with an elbow instead of a handshake. I marveled at empty streets - it was all so new and surreal. A year later and I want to scream ‘enough already’ even though I know that will be like bellowing at the wind. When I Google searched ‘COVID fatigue’ it came up with “Fatigue is a possible symptom of COVID-19” which only added to my feeling of despair and total Covid-overload. I know I am not the only person feeling like this.

As this pandemic drags on, adhering to all the rules and COVID-19 prevention guidelines just starts to feel unbearable. I don’t think this feeling of ennui is confined to all the pandemic precautions like adhering to social distancing, wearing a face mask and washing your hands. I feel it all adds up to psychologically running out of steam and will but maybe that’s normal with every kind of health-related behaviour change. Think about it. If you are trying to increase the amount of exercise you do, maintaining a healthy diet, giving up smoking, chocolate, alcohol or whatever, most times after an enthusiastic start, you lose interest and motivation. Statistically when trying to affect these kind of changes at least half of people relapse within six months. I think I am in this group.

So, I am relapsing and so what? If I find another thousand people to commiserate with what will it achieve and what will that change?  Everyone’s fed up and in the same boat but that thought hardly comforts me. It’s like when I didn’t want to eat my dinner as a child and my mother would try and guilt-trip  me into eating citing the millions of underprivileged children starving in the world. I just couldn’t connect with that image having never left my hometown, so my view of the world didn’t expand to issues of world hunger. It’s not lost to me that today I may sound like a whining and ungrateful child because I have not lost anyone to this disease although a dear colleague of mine just did and another colleague has been extremely ill. Similarly, my business interests have survived and have been spared the economic hardships that many others have experienced associated with industries such tourism or hospitality. 

But even though many are Covid-fatigued, what hasn’t waned in people is the fear of COVID. And this is what worries me more than my loss of will to work through this pandemic. I accept that a degree of fear is necessary to keep us in check and make us adhere and mobilize us to deal with the potential threat. However, it is important that fear is calibrated to the actual threat levels and if it is not it can be maladaptive and counter-productive. 

According to one particular Covid 19 study “ when fear is too excessive, this may have detrimental effects both at the individual level (e.g., mental health problems such as phobia and social anxiety), and at the societal level (e.g., panic shopping or xenophobia). On the other hand, when there is insufficient fear, this may also result in harm for individuals and society (e.g., due to people ignoring government measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus or due to reckless policies that ignore the risks). Furthermore, fear triggers safety behaviours (e.g., hand washing) that can mitigate certain threats (e.g., contamination), but they may paradoxically also enhance fear (e.g., contamination concerns and health anxiety).

This week I saw a young girl test positive for COVID and I watched the rest of the young team she works with become notably panicked. They are all young and statistically at very little risk and their fear seemed disproportionate. With an urgency and motivation towards action which I have rarely seen from them they all demanded testing (not for the first time). The knowledge that the recovery from this illness in Botswana is about 98% (and the 2% is surely the old and infirm), seems lost. In their minds it is still a potential death sentence and akin to being diagnosed with the Plague.  I am asking myself what are we doing to ourselves? With no sign of the vaccine roll-out in sight how long will this mass hysteria continue and for and how long can it? Me with my burn out and them with their fear.

As I said, enough already!