Pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on mental health of pros

On most days, Rohit Kapur (name changed), a senior executive at a financial services company, finds it a huge struggle to get himself to work.

Kapur has been missing targets and was recently put on a performance improvement plan, quite a comedown for someone who had always been among the top performers.

Still, this hasn’t been enough to shake him out of his current listless state of mind.

“Most of the time I’m thinking: ‘why bother?”

Nearly two-and-a-half years into the Covid-19 pandemic that is once again witnessing a surge, professionals like Kapur are suffering from ‘pandemic fatigue‘ – a fallout of living through a long period of stress with no immediate end in sight.

It is playing out in different ways, say mental health experts, including demotivation, irritation, fatigue, anxiety, panic attacks, pessimism, lack of concentration and depression. They are seeing a 40-100% surge in such cases.

While some organisations are being supportive, some others that are calling employees back to office expect them to be at the top of their game.

Compounding the problem, they also want employees to put in extra efforts after ‘all the time at home’, not realising that they are tired, stressed and burnt out.

“Pandemic fatigue is affecting professionals across sectors,” says Delhi-based psychologist Geetanjali Kumar.

At a webinar she attended last week, many teachers present questioned how they could address students’ social and mental needs as well as traumas and create ‘happy classrooms’ when they were so mentally and physically drained themselves.

Dr Pratima Murthy, director at Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans) says that the prolonged uncertainty about the future is creating a sense of loss of control among professionals.

Dr Jayakumar, associate professor at the Nimhans Centre for Psychosocial Support in Disaster Management, says people are feeling stressed out; focus and concentration has taken a big hit and interactions with colleagues are getting affected. Lifestyle modifications to return to office are also taking a toll.

“There are readjustment issues and what’s making things more difficult is that employers are demanding more work in the office after the time spent at home,” he says.

Archana Bisht, director at Employee Assistance Programme service provider, says that earlier people set goals and worked towards them, but now many are just going through the motions.

There are those that have lost loved ones and are thinking – is the job even important?

the Disconnect

There is also a disconnect with colleagues and the organisation at large, says Bisht, citing the example of an executive who joined an organisation in WFH (work from home) mode during the virus outbreak – though the executive spends hours on the phone with his boss, he doesn’t have that personal rapport.

She says: “Everything has become very transactional; relationships aren’t getting formed. There’s tiredness, fatigue, unmanaged stress, all related to the pandemic. And if you’re vulnerable to depression, then it’s easy to slip into that.”

A hospitality sector professional lost his job recently and blamed it on Covid-19.

The fact was he had been unable to focus on work for a while, was disoriented, anxious and underperforming, says Dr Seema Hingorrany, Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. “He says that his bad times have started since 2020 and till Covid-19 lasts, he’ll keep losing his job. He’s doing better with therapy now,” she says.

Psychologists say it is crucial to accept that uncertainty is the only certainty – and try to look at the brighter side.

“People are feeling like it’s a continuous war zone. Yes, there’s a struggle, but we have to tap our internal resources and make that extra effort,” says psychologist Kumar.

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