How to combat ‘quarantine fatigue’: Maintain vigilance

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  • By Mr. Edzel Butac

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on with no current end or vaccine in sight, dealing with the fatigue associated with quarantine rules and mandates can get the best of us.

Since March, the number of COVID-19 cases in Washington peaked in April with 70 cases per 100,000 people during a two-week period. After a brief period of decline, the state is now seeing nearly 98 cases per 100,000 people, according to the Washington Department of Health.  

With shelter-in-place orders imposed since mid-March, quarantine fatigue is a phenomenon medical professionals are closely monitoring.

“Quarantine fatigue, as I understand it, is generally becoming tired or paying less attention to the necessary changes in behavior to continue to reduce or slow transmission of the novel coronavirus,” said Col. (Dr.) Bruce Neely, 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. “This is a very normal human reaction, especially for people who don’t really see the extent of the outbreak. Another way to put this is ‘letting your guard down.’”

The longing to return to life as usual is a natural response, Neely said.

“You need to recognize and acknowledge those feelings while remaining vigilant and recognizing that this is a societal issue and that caring for your fellow citizens is important,” he said.  “By taking care of yourself, maintaining physical distancing, wearing a mask when out in public places where physical distancing cannot be maintained, you are also continuing and extending your service to the country.  This is one of the ultimate expressions of the Air Force core value of service before self.”

Kristi McCann, the director of Psychological Health for the 446th Airlift Wing, has been helping Airmen cope with various mental health challenges for years.

 “All of us will experience it at some point because it is human nature to be around others and to come and go as we see fit,” said McCann. She suggested that while we continue social distancing, we should keep up with the following:

Stay active both in home and outdoors:  Deep clean your home or purge your closets. Get outside to garden, build a deck, or make a fire pit. Ideas are endless and changing it up is important.

Keep exercising: People are outside running, walking, biking and skateboarding. Yoga is good for relaxation, flexibility and strength building.

Good sleep and healthy eating: Maintain habits that keep your body and mind in peak performance.

Be grateful: It is common to focus on things we miss, but shift those thoughts to what you have no matter how small.

Practice mindfulness: In order to prevent feeling overwhelmed or becoming overly reactive, bring focus back to the present. This does not have to be meditation, just an increased awareness of what is going on around you. 

McCann added that it is normal to feel quarantine fatigue, but don’t get trapped in it. A-C-E is one way to free yourself from the trap:

Awareness:  Are you tired of being tired?  Restless? Frustrated?  These are common reactions to difficult times. Identify feelings (remember it is labeling, not judging). This makes changes in the brain that will help regulate feelings and better manage them. 

Connections:  Break free from isolation. We are all in this together. Talk with those that are important to you. Technology has certainly helped. Also, put on a mask, follow social distancing guidelines.

Empowerment:  The pandemic has forced us into change, but it is an opportunity address personal challenges and build on our strengths. 

“Try to avoid complacency and pay attention to what is going on in your specific location by using reliable data sources. Most county public health departments have COVID-19 sites, the King County side has a number of different data dashboards for example as does the Washington Department of Health,” Neely said. “Trying to avoid social media where amplification of opinions and disinformation may also be helpful.  Educate yourself about the situation and keep in mind the long view and keep a long view not a short term mindset.”

Additionally, if you feel like you are suffering from quarantine fatigue, the agencies below can help:

Chaplains: 253-982-0330/6955/8187

Director of Psychological Health: 253-982-5496

Military One Source:  (800) 342-9647

Military Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255 and press 1, Text 838255

Vet Centers:  (877)-WAR-VETS (927-8387) to locate local vet center


For Washington State residents: 

Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Valley Cities

6103 Mount Tacoma Dr SW, Tacoma, WA 98499

Call Connect to Care (253) 833-7444. Calls are answered 24/7


Outside of Washington State:

Call 833-CVN-VETS