How to survive pandemic fatigue

From getting offline to working out, here are some tips on surviving the difficult months ahead

Let’s face it: we’ve had enough. We’ve got pandemic fatigue.

It’s been eight months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We obeyed the rules. We stayed at home and limited our outside interactions. We FaceTimed family members. 

That seemed to work, for a while. But now we’re experiencing the pandemic’s second wave, and numbers of new cases are higher than ever in the province. At the same time, anti-maskers are out demonstrating and some people are ignoring guidelines about staying within their household bubbles. 

So what’s a mask-wearing, physically distanced, hand-sanitized person to do?

“The fact is, we need a certain amount of stimulation in our lives,” explains Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at U of T Scarborough.

Worn down

“It’s part of optimal arousal theory. Before COVID-19, if we went out four nights in a row with friends, we’d want a night at home. And if we stayed in for four nights, we’d want to go out. But now we’ve all been in our homes for way too long, we’ve had no events to go to and very little stimulation. And that’s worn us down.”

So has the fact that our limbic system – which regulates the so-called “fight or flight” reaction in our brains to danger – has been on overdrive, with cortisol constantly being pumped into our bodies. 

“That response is meant to be quick – you fight a predator or you flee,” says Joordens. “It’s not meant to last for days, weeks, months. And that’s when we get into what we call chronic stress and all of the issues that come with that, which include a compromised immune system and susceptibility to things like viruses.”

Gen Z, millennials and Gen X especially affected

An Ipsos poll last month stated that 48 per cent of Canadians are getting tired of following public health recommendations and rules regarding COVID-19. Pandemic fatigue, it stated, is especially pronounced among Gen Z (57 per cent), millennial (50 per cent) and Gen X (53 per cent) Canadians.

Joordens says it’s understandable if people in these groups are frustrated. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for younger people – those in the midst of becoming independent who haven’t yet established their own families – it’s important to build up their social network and meet new people.

“That’s a primary concern for them,” he says. “They’re continually meeting new people, connecting with them, forming new friendships, perhaps looking for that life partner. What COVID really affected was the ability of humans to socialize personally – not just with friends but strangers. We’re not encouraged to meet random people. At parties, we’ve got a collection of friends, who give us comfort and security. But there’s also the excitement of those new people who could be future friends. And when people in these younger groups are denied that, it’s especially hard on them.”

Time to embrace winter

So what does Joordens suggest doing to combat fatigue as the cold weather comes?

“It’s time we Canadians decide that we are really going to embrace winter,” he says, laughing. “We are going to have to get outside, especially on sunny days. Toboggan, cross-country ski, skate. It’s a great time to have neighbourhood rinks, a place where kids can wear masks, be active and outdoors. There’s a very low transmission rate for a population to gather like that.”

In fact, there’s nothing like exercise to boost your energy, firm those muscles and get you off your work-at-home, Netflix-and-chilled ass. 

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Strap on some snowshoes and get some exercise this winter.

Work it out

In August, I wrote about what you need to build a decent home gym, including things like a mat, exercise bands, kettlebells, a pushup stand and barbells. Obviously, that equipment will be useful all year long. I’ve also documented over a dozen pandemic walks in the city to combat pandemic fatigue.

But just because winter’s around the corner doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors. Some of those walks will still be doable in the winter – with the added bonus that there will be far fewer cyclists on snowy days.

Dust off those old skates in your closet and head to one of the city’s many outdoor public skating rinks. (Bonus: rinks include some of the only public washrooms in the city.)

Buy a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and find a trail in the city – High Park is a terrific and accessible venue.

Remember to dress in layers, bring your fully charged phone, a bit of food and water and a flashlight or reflective gear. If you embark on your winter wonderland adventure alone and get lost, these might come in handy.

Take a new approach to food

Remember the early days of the pandemic when everyone was making banana bread and showing off the results on social media?

Yeah, well, they’re over. 

For the past eight months, most of us have prepared every single meal, and we’re tired of cooking, baking – and even eating. Let’s not even mention the cleanup situation.

Sure, restaurant takeout, patios and reopened dining rooms are an option, but the former are expensive and the latter isn’t entirely safe.

Here are some ideas about how to put some interest in food back on the menu.

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If you’re tired of eating the same things, add a new spice to give your food a kick.

Try out new recipes

You’ve probably already cycled through your repertoire of recipes, so ask friends, family and work colleagues for suggestions. Think of that dish that’s always a hit at the extended family picnic or holiday office party. There’s also the internet. Follow some food-related people on social media – one of my favourites is writer and actor Jan Caruana’s Instagram account @twolittlesandwiches – to give you ideas. 

Try out new ingredients 

One way to rev up your interest in food is to cook with new things. While at the market, see what produce is in season or on sale and buy a bunch of it. Type in the ingredient at a recipe site (one of my faves is for delicious ideas. This is also good when something already in your fridge is starting to wilt.

And if, like me, you’re tired of making the same pot of coffee every day, experiment with blends – and add variety with a squirt of flavoured syrup. This could help get you over culinary pandemic fatigue.

Use different plates and glasses

Maybe you’re not tired of the same food… you’re tired of its presentation. If you’re like me, you probably own dishes and glasses you never use. Maybe it’s that platter on the top ledge of your cabinet. Or the nice wine glasses. Or a set of coasters from a friend’s vacation. Or a relish tray you only used when company came over (back when people could come over). I’m sure you’ve got candles in a drawer somewhere.

Now’s the time to bring them out. While you’re at it, dust off those holiday plates, too. They’ll change your mood and add interest to every meal, curing you of a bit of pandemic fatigue.

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Since you can’t travel to Spain, let Spain come to you by making a paella.

Take a trip to a different country – through its food

Since few people are travelling internationally these days, why not bring another country’s food to you? While you’re at it, make an event of it. Prepare a paella, uncork a Tempranillo and watch a favourite Almadóvar movie. Or throw a mini Bong joon-ho film festival at home after preparing some hoeddeok, bulgogi, kimchi and beer.

More How To Survive Pandemic Fatigue stories

Suffering from Zoom fatigue? Pick up the phone.

Cure pandemic fatigue by learning to fix up your home

Get off social media and stop doomscrolling


Glenn Sumi, Jan Caruana and Renna Reddie discuss their methods of coping with pandemic fatigue on the latest episode of the NOW What podcast, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or playable right here:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.

Comments (1)

  • Arlene Rogers November 14, 2020 11:37 AM

    Thanks for your suggestions. Great work

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