Knowingly or not, crisis fatigue is a condition many people experience. It is a sense of overwhelming stress that occurs when what is happening around the outside world starts impacting the world inside the body.
News fatigue can also set in with crises in the headlines. Watched events from afar can cause personal pain that feels right here, right now.
Fascinatingly, the human body includes a built-in nervous system. It switches on and releases stress hormones to defend and protect the body when in crisis mode.
But what happens when that switch is flipped on but there seems to be no way out? What if the usual methods of coping just are not cutting it?
Read on to find out more about crisis fatigue and news fatigue, as well as healthy coping tools to handle each.
What Is Crisis Fatigue?
The term "crisis fatigue" is being used by health professionals to describe what happens when someone experiences a stressful situation. Their bodies respond to said stress, often with a fight or flight response, only to have no practical way to return to a restful, calm state.
In other words, crisis fatigue is a state of heightened or intense reaction brought on by a crisis in which the emotions involved do not subside. It can cause feelings of stress and fatigue, and can also create a very real sense of dread.
Coupled with the draining of emotional, mental, and physical energy, the inner workings of the human body sense catastrophe even when threats are not immediate.
Trying to maintain normalcy in a time without precedent can be difficult when panic seems more natural than a state of composure.
How to Identify Crisis Fatigue
In a state of crisis fatigue, the normal and everyday routine can be interrupted by an inability to function. The following signs and symptoms are commonly present in people feeling fatigued and stressed caused by crises:
• Extreme emotional responses or inappropriate reactions
• Sleep disturbances
• Changes in normal routines
• Changes in appetite or habits
What Is News Fatigue?
News fatigue is a related type of fatigue caused by exposure to the news, often during times of crisis or unrest in communities, local or global.
Kaye Hermanson, a psychologist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UC Davis Health, has wise advice when it comes to the news:
"If listening to the news is hard, just do it a little and limit it to trusted, responsible sources… Social media plays a role in this. Don't get caught up trading posts with people you disagree with. It will just make you more angry or scared."
Most healthcare experts advise their clients who feel like they need to stay updated on current events to find a good balance of information intake. This may include setting time limits for watching the news or having a mental health professional to check-in with.
Other actionable tips to help reduce stress levels and fatigue brought on by crisis and current events are listed below.
Managing Stress In a Time of Crisis
There are many ways to stay balanced even when the world seems to lack a sense of calm or certainty.
Here are 10 methods to unwind and stay level-headed if experiencing crisis fatigue.
1. Maintain a Routine
When unusual things are occurring, it can be more helpful than usual to have a steady routine. Consistency can help add an element of stability and security day-to-day.
Certain people or situations can also cause stress or trigger a negative coping response. Instead of engaging in risky behavior, identify high-risk situations and make a plan for responding to them.
For example, if reading too much news causes anxiety, build a 10-minute window of reading into a routine. Doing so helps one stay up-to-date on events without consuming too much news that may control mood.
2. Focus on the Power of Choice
When it comes to questions surrounding a crisis, there is not often a simple and single answer. Conversations arise, and controlling how others behave is out of personal control.
However, one does have the choice to react to such situations. Walk away, choose kindness, or log off when a healthy or productive situation can no longer be created.
3. Be Intentional with Energy and Time
Even if everything seems routine during times of crisis, bodies are often primed for a stress response. This can cause frustration and confusion when one cannot seem to juggle once normal tasks.
Focus on two to three main priorities, and then concentrate a genuine effort by dedicating prime energy levels to those tasks first. Remember that during stressful events, it is important to be personally patient and with others.
4. Look for and Act as a Helper
Mr. Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’"
If helpers around are not found or around, act like one of them. A crisis often has a ripple effect and looking for ways to help can reveal no shortage of those who are in need.
Ways to help out might include the following:
• Volunteer within the community, including at local shelters and food banks.
• Tip a waiter a little extra when dining or ordering out.
• Create a fundraiser for a friend, family member, neighbor, etc. that might be in need.
• Use sites such as Charity Navigator, which lists highly-rated nonprofits that provide relief and recovery to communities impacted by the current crises around the world
All-in-all, lending a helping hand can be helpful to manage stress on personal and global levels.
5. Accept and Receive Support Creatively
During crises, modes of travel, employment, communication, and other regular activities may not be proceeding as normal.
Consider alternate ways of showing support to friends, such as sending gift cards or buying a service from a friend's small business. It may also be wise to seek professional medical advice during times of crisis.
Ask yourself, "How would I want to be helped during this time?" Also ask others, "What would be the best way to help and support you during this time?"
The answers to both of these questions can bring clarity, and it is not unusual that times of crisis call for creative solutions.
6. Take On a New Hobby
It can be hard to sit still when so much is happening and it is easy to feel helpless. To tackle this, try starting something new that seems engaging and exciting.
A hobby can be as simple as a puzzle or as complex as learning a new language. Also bonus points if it can be turned into an act of service, including knitting beanies for newborn babies or sewing protective masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Crisis events affect people of all generations, including preschoolers learning to count and physicians learning to cope. They often require adjustment, and it can be even more crucial of a time to find balance when life seems off-center.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in preventing, and healing from, burnout. Do not discount the simplicity of a mindful practice in helping to deal with difficult events and their relative impacts.
8. Strategize Potential Solutions
Just as a savings account offers security for unexpected expenses, having a basic plan for possible needs is also a good idea.
Especially for those with unique medical conditions and other special considerations, try to plan a couple of months ahead for supplements and medications.
Crises do not necessarily mean that quality of life has to suffer, and rather it is wise to plan ahead when things seem to go downhill.
9. Tend to Self-Care
It can be tempting in a time where it seems other's needs are greater than one's own to discount the discomfort of the self.
Self-care looks different for everyone. However, common ways to tend to both self-care and stress management include:
• Enjoying some sort of physical activity
• Reading a favorite book
• Stepping outside in nature
• Taking a warm bath
10. Remember the Good News
Staying updated on current events and issues is important, but not at the expense of health. Limit exposure to media that focuses on crises or their negative effects during stressful times, and balance the bad news out with seeking for the good in the world.
For instance, Good Good Good is devoted to spreading the good news in the world. They offer multiple formats to choose from, including a newspaper, podcast, and newsletter.
Remember, the choice to consume information is personal and controlling is intentional. Even amidst uncertain times, these tips can certainly help one heal from the fatigue all experience amidst a crisis.
Instead of trying to implement all these tips at the same time, focus on adding one or two to a daily routine. Then, continue to identify and evaluate where additional tips could best benefit.
Arianna Galligher. How to cope with 'crisis fatigue'. Ohio State Medical Center. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/how-to-cope-with-crisis-fatigue. Published June 11, 2020.