The cheery, “We’ll get through this, 2022 will be better,” remains the mantra of many. Unfortunately, there are an increasing number of us now mumbling crankily, “Omicron. Really? Will this ever end?”

Covid is becoming personal, involving us emotionally in a way it didn’t 18 months ago.

The animosity between those getting vaccinated and those refusing is intensifying, dividing friends, communities and professions. French President Macron says he wants to “piss off” anti-vaxxers and make their lives miserable while tennis star Novak Djokovic refuses to comply with the Australian immigration regulations required to compete in the Australian Open. Major outbursts have erupted on all sides. Patience is evaporating, increasing stress for everyone.

What of those Ontarians that haven’t visited their properties in Florida or the US southwest for 20 months or more? Whether to sell or hold their properties is as much an emotional decision as it is an economic one.

We all have our individual flashpoints. Fifth waves, Omicron, renewed lockdowns, and an unknown future are edging ever more of us toward the slippery slope on which our additional daily stresses become overwhelming.

Stress is a natural response to danger and situations outside our experience or control, producing what is simplistically referred to as the “fight or flight” reaction. A third, less discussed response to stress, especially as it overwhelms us, is to freeze, to do nothing.

As Covid continues its relentless and unpredictable advance, it is becoming important for each of us to understand our current level of stress, and where we might sit on a spectrum ranging from basic acute stress to being emotionally overwhelmed.

Acute stress, such as the risk of missing an important deadline or facing a crucial exam, may raise your blood pressure and heart rate for a short time, but will generally subside. Acute stress can linger if we continually rehash the incident in our minds or sense it will affect our future, leading to additional mental symptoms of irritability, sadness, and anxiety, and physical symptoms such as headache and neuromuscular pain. These will also generally subside in cases of acute stress.

Episodic acute stress may arise when people over-burden themselves or take on too much, causing a state of regular tension or stress. The symptoms are primarily as above, but the constant additional worry may increase the propensity for anger.

Chronic stress is most commonly caused by events and problems beyond our control that linger and gnaw away at us, wearing us down day by day. Covid, unpredictable and unresolved as it is, could be such a trigger if we stop resisting and lose the hope of a brighter day.

Emotional stress now risks displacing mental stress in many of us. Initially we understood mentally that Covid would demand temporary lifestyle changes and sacrifices, but we weren’t emotionally impacted. There were exceptions. The loss of loved ones to the virus, healthcare workers struggling with unrelenting schedules, and physicians’ sadness were all emotionally stressful, but for most of us, lockdowns and restrictions were a finite inconvenience to be dealt with.

Now, emotions everywhere are beginning to fray. Demands from work, family and government are again multiplying, and our responses are increasingly emotional.

Early on, anti-vaxxers concerned or mystified us, but with an end apparently in sight, we seldom stressed about it. Now, two years in and with a better understanding of the disproportionate costs refusing to vaccinate has inflicted on our society, few are able to address this issue without becoming emotionally involved.

We don’t know when or if travel, work, vacations, schooling, sports, and other activities will return to normal. There are few absolutes. We are peppered with constantly changing information and misinformation, and often struggle to discern which is which. We have no idea if Omicron will cause this pandemic to become endemic, or how many boosters we’ll need. Existential questions go unanswered. Is this the new normal? How will our lives change long term? The emotional toll of this uncertainty is devastating for some.

Add in climate change, spiraling public debt, unsettled Indigenous issues and the result is overwhelming. Clinicians have labeled this sense of being emotionally overwhelmed, when numerous crises peak at once without end-date or a plan to escape, as “crisis fatigue.”

Omicron, the fifth wave, is increasingly causing crisis fatigue. Our emotions freeze, we go numb, and our lives are thrown into disarray. Understanding our position in this spectrum of stress and anxiety will significantly improve our chances of coping in a healthy and positive manner during the next few cold and bleak months.

It’s important to understand that it is natural, and to be expected that we’d feel overwhelmed and fatigued at this point in the pandemic.

It’s important to understand that it is natural, and to be expected that we’d feel overwhelmed and fatigued at this point in the pandemic.

Dr. Petros Levounis, Professor and Chair of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School explains, “The biological stress response can protect us during challenging situations and crises. However, when stress becomes chronic and persists for weeks, months or years, it can have harmful effects. People invest a lot of energy in the early phases [of coping], but the human body can’t sustain a high adrenaline state for a long time, making crash inevitable.”

Where are you on the spectrum? Is a constant stream of bad news possibly causing you to overreact, viewing this long, but ultimately temporary upheaval, as permanent and overwhelming?

Examining our indulgences is one measure of how we’re coping as individuals.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, those first lockdowns when we knew vaccines were on the way and assumed that everything would be back to normal in a few months, we indulged ourselves in too much comfort food, relaxing with Netflix, purchasing fashions and toys like RVs, bicycles or whatever, to pass the time and distract ourselves. Gyms and community centres were shuttered, group sports were restricted or stopped. Exercise and physical fitness levels plummeted for some of us.

If these habits have become ingrained, you may be at risk of emotional and health issues as the pandemic continues. If you have recognized this trend in yourself and worked to resist it, to maintain a healthy physical and emotional lifestyle, you will be better positioned to meet the new future.

What can be done to escape or avoid such a funk? There exist innumerable suggestions, ranging from those of accredited studies to self-help bloggers. The following have broad consensus.

Strengthening physical and mental resilience improves our ability to adapt successfully to any new adversities we may encounter.

Resilience requires strong physical wellness. Maintain regular sleep habits to ensure sufficient rest. Stick with, or return to, a nutritionally balanced diet. Maintain the recommended level of age-appropriate physical activity to improve both physical stamina and elevate your mood.

Improving mental resilience while suffering from Covid fatigue requires increased mindfulness of the present moment, striving one day at a time to focus on those things you can control. Think positively toward the future. Realize that although we are living in a rapidly changing world, you’ve successfully overcome many negative situations in the past.

Stay connected with family, friends, co-workers and your community in general. Seek out those you trust and talk with them honestly about your feelings and concerns. Engaging and supporting others benefits both those you assist and yourself by improving your sense of control, self-esteem and belonging.

Preserve the routines that help maintain a sense of normalcy in your life.

While it is important to be informed, consider limiting media exposure to those trusted sources whose information can help protect you and your family. Forget the mindless loops of distressing sensationalized hype.

Meditate. Think differently and change your mindset to reflect our Covid world. Appreciate what we still have and can continue to do. Concentrate on opportunities for joy and compassion, not what is being taken away. Stay engaged in the activities that you enjoy within current Covid regulations.

These simple steps will help keep us healthy so we have the strength to do what we deem important, and the mental calmness to make the deliberate, informed decisions required to maintain a balanced, rewarding life during this Covid resurgence.