Virginia Tech has had many successes in the fight against coronavirus, but to continue, an inward battle must also be fought.

Since March, the majority of Hokies have strived to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19 by adhering to public health guidelines. While the collective effort is evident in the decreasing case numbers and a lack of measurable community spread in the New River Health District, what can sometimes go unnoticed is the toll on the individuals doing that good work.

“What I think is really difficult with this, is it’s just such an ambiguous situation,” said Charles Calderwood, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, speaking of the pandemic. “We don’t know when it’s going to end. We don’t know how it’s going to end. That makes it difficult in our day-to-day lives to see tangible progress.”

Pandemic fatigue, also known as COVID fatigue, is an emerging topic across the country as the United States approaches the 7-month mark of the national emergency and its accompanying restrictions. If left unchecked, this weariness can become overwhelming and grow into apathy toward those same public health guidelines that have thus far help mitigate many widespread outbreaks.

The fatigue is becoming more common throughout the New River Valley and has resulted in an increase of people gathering together in large groups, according to a recent update from Noelle Bissell, New River Health District director. And though it is evident in a relatively small number of residents, the impact of pandemic fatigue can be widespread.

“This is a very small minority of residents, but it is a problem because as soon as we relax a little, COVID spreads,” Bissell said. “Literally less than 20 percent of infectious people are responsible for spreading COVID.”

Calderwood, whose research focuses on how employees perceive, respond to, and recover from work stress, said the pandemic situation has many similarities to the type of burnout many people experience in the workplace.

“One of the hardest situations we face from a work stress standpoint is when we have the ability, we have the motivation, but we just can’t see progress,” said Calderwood. “This can undercut both performance and motivation.”

Generally, there are both psychological and physical pathways to overcoming this burnout. For the former, Calderwood suggests individuals ensure they are setting aside time each day to relax and/or do something they enjoy, and to be purposeful about connecting with others, even if it seems hard.

“Some of the novelty has worn off of stuff like virtual dinner parties, but the lack of social connection is really something that can be problematic,” he said. “I think we really have to try to make those things a priority, even if they feel forced.”

Calderwood also encourages individuals to see the connection between their physical wellbeing and their mental and emotion wellbeing.

“Really, it’s just trying to say, ‘It’s important to me that I exercise, eat well, and sleep enough,’” he said. “You’d be surprised how impactful that will be to how you feel.”

Calderwood’s advice mirrors some tips provided by Swathi Prabhu, Hokie Wellness’s mental health initiatives coordinator. Prabhu suggested 10 questions that can serve as a great daily check-in for individuals of any age.

  1. Does my body feel rested today?
  2. Have I met by body’s energy needs today with nutrient-rich foods?
  3. Have I moved my body in ways that feel good today (not just for the sake of exercise)?
  4. Have I done anything purely for enjoyment today?
  5. Have I connected with a friend or family member today?
  6. Have I varied my activities and work today?
  7. Have I gotten fresh air today?
  8. What is one success I’ve had today?
  9. What is one challenge I’ve learned from today?
  10. Have I helped or supported anyone today?

Hokie Wellness provides a variety of virtual and safe in-person workshops, events, and activities for students, faculty, and staff, including Kuro mindfulness and a series on fostering resiliency.

Hokie Wellness also offers virtual campus meditations, including at the Duck Pond, Drillfield, and Hahn Garden.

Cook Counseling Center also has a variety of resources to help students coping with the pandemic, including a support group and weekly morning and afternoon mindfulness meetings.

Virginia Tech also many resources for staying active and socially engaged.

Rec Sports has variety of in-person and virtual offerings. They even recently launched a student exercise incentive program, Hokie Movement Club, to help students stay motivated and active throughout the semester by offering high-quality prizes and rewards.

GobblerConnect is also a great place for students to find ways to engage with other Hokies. Keep up with events on the site from your phone by downloading the Corq app for iPhone or Android.

Hokies taking care of themselves is key to Virginia Tech continuing to rise to the challenges presented during this critical period of the global pandemic.

“Although this is excellent progress, we are not yet where we need to be to relax the policies that have guided us to this point. This is not the time to give in to pandemic fatigue,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands in a message to the campus community on Oct. 7. “Still, I am hopeful that continuing to wear masks, maintain distance, and avoid indoor gatherings will give us a chance to finish the in-person portion of the semester with fewer restrictions in place, such as those on outdoor activities.”

Written by Travis Williams