Pandemic fatigue faced by Malaysians worrying – Experts

By BERNAMA / Pic by TMR FILE PIX

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 – The pandemic fatigue experienced by Malaysians, in general, is growing more critical and has reached a level deemed as worrying, according to health experts and psychologists.

In fact, they view the current spike in COVID-19 cases as partly due to pandemic fatigue as a consequence of people getting fed up with complying with the various standard operating procedures (SOPs) enforced since March last year.

Even with SOP compliance and movement restrictions in place, daily new cases have consistently remained in the five-figure range, with the situation showing no sign of letting up. In fact, new cases reported nationwide yesterday (Aug 19) spiked to 22,948, the highest-ever single-day figure since COVID-19 cases were detected in Malaysia at end-January last year.

As per the definition by the World Health Organisation (WHO), pandemic fatigue refers to the lack of motivation to follow recommendations by the authorities to protect oneself and others from the virus. The agency said pandemic fatigue reported in populations of countries worldwide is expressed through an increasing number of people not complying with the restrictions imposed by their respective governments.

According to experts, among the signs of pandemic fatigue are boredom, extreme fatigue and lack of motivation to work as well as perform other activities.

MENTAL ISSUES

Dr Siti Marziah Zakaria, a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre for Research in Psychology and Human Well-being, warned that if these feelings are left unchecked, it can lead to more severe mental health problems.

She said this was evident in the findings of a survey carried out by the centre from December 2020 to March this year, which involved 2,047 respondents aged 18 and above nationwide.

The survey showed that 62.5 percent of the respondents experienced pandemic fatigue. Describing it as alarming, Siti Marziah said a large number of respondents also stated that they were often physically and mentally exhausted from having to abide by the various SOPs set by the government to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Many of them also lamented that they could not do much all day while others said they felt a sense of loneliness and unmotivated.

“The fatigue they feel will exacerbate if the movement control period and SOP-compliance prolong to the extent of them getting tired of complying with the orders and directives set by the government,” she told Bernama.

According to Siti Marziah, pandemic fatigue is also affecting populations in other countries, based on the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over there caused by non-compliance with SOPs and other restrictions.

“This is also happening in our country. Besides the highly transmissible Delta variant, the hike in cases (in Malaysia) is also due to the attitude of people who have grown weary of the SOPs and don’t take them seriously,” she said.

Netizens disgruntled with the present situation, meanwhile, have also been busy venting their frustrations and anger on social media, with rantings such as, “So, until when? What has happened? We have been holing up at home thinking cases will reduce…? Till when will we have to stay at home?”

OVERCOMING PANDEMIC FATIGUE

Is there a panacea for pandemic fatigue? According to experts, the best way to overcome it is by gearing oneself to accept with an open heart all the trials they are facing and adapting to the situation.

Said Siti Marziah: “Try to look at the underlying wisdom behind the pandemic and find the good behind the movement controls and SOPs. Most importantly, always think positively and look at things in a positive light.”

She also advised the public to manage their time well by striking a balance between their work or studies and leisure activities.

Studies have shown that appropriate coping mechanisms can help to reduce stress, particular during the pandemic, she said.

“This is why it is important for people staying mostly at home to come up with a schedule to manage their time properly, as well as find a hobby that’s therapeutic,” she added.

Dr Harris Shah Abd Hamid, a senior lecturer at the Department of Education Psychology and Counselling, Universiti Malaya, concurred with her views, saying that the public should diversify their personal activities, including seeking hobbies that bring them joy and avert feelings of isolation.

Harris Shah said pandemic fatigue can be regarded as a psychological symptom brought about by prolonged exposure to stress induced by the pandemic. It is evident in the reactions of the people, many of whom are seen to have grown more sensitive and easily irritable, as well as more prone to hurling unkind remarks.

His solution to getting out of the grip of pandemic fatigue is via proper management of one’s “expectations, personal activities and boundaries”.

“Many things have certainly changed since the pandemic started. We’ve to review our expectations of our work, lifestyle, entertainment and other aspects. We should also not keep our hopes (of the pandemic receding) too high as we may end up feeling frustrated.

“So, it’s best that we take a relook at our expectations and be more realistic in line with the current situation, which will help us to feel more positive and productive,” said Harris Shah, who also urged individuals working from home to create clear boundaries between their career and families to prevent fatigue from doubling up.

REDUCE UNCERTAINTIES

He also said that the government should try to reduce the element of uncertainty when presenting pandemic-related information to the public.

“All announcements to the public should be comprehensive, without omitting any important information as (omitting certain information) would raise questions… if any question arises, it should be addressed immediately.

“The government representatives who communicate (with the rakyat) should be empathetic towards how the people are feeling and should not be in denial as to the people’s grievances and the existence of pandemic fatigue,” he said.

Harris Shah also said that although the ongoing pandemic seems long drawn-out, several pandemics that emerged during the history of human civilisation had successfully ended.

In respect of this, he urged the public to think differently and positively as this is the best way to overcome pandemic fatigue.

“We can, for example, think about our nation’s vaccination rate which is one of the fastest in the world. We have to think optimistically that this (mass vaccination) will resolve the crisis we are facing now.

“We should also limit our exposure to information that can affect us emotionally. In fact, WHO has suggested that we limit our reading of (materials on) COVID-19 if it has a negative impact on us,” he added.