Over the last several months, physical distancing and quarantine have been an experience most could never have imagined. And while parts of the country and segments of industries are slowly reopening, there is still uncertainty about how long it will take for things to go back normal, or what the “new normal” will even look like.

As more time passes without clear answers, it’s very easy to feel tired of it all. Luana Marques, PhD, director of Community Psychiatry PRIDE and Mass General Research Scholar 2020-2025, offers insight into these feelings of quarantine fatigue and tips on working through them.

What is Quarantine Fatigue?

“Quarantine fatigue may look different from person to person, but overall, it’s defined as exhaustion associated with the new restrictive lifestyle that’s been adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Marques.

This exhaustion can be experienced differently by people, but symptoms may include:

  • Feeling tense, irritable or anxious
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Loss of motivation or reduced productivity
  • Racing thoughts
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Social withdrawal

As Dr. Marques notes, this is not an exhaustive list. “There is no ’right’ way to feel right now and however you may be feeling is valid in its own right.”

Are Reopening Plans a Green Light?

With summer around the corner and states easing restrictions in an effort to reopen, research from the University of Maryland has shown that between April 23rd and May 1st, many states saw more than a 30% decrease in the percentage of people staying home. There has also been a 20% increase in interstate travel across partially reopened states.

Dr. Marques warns of the danger in moving too fast. “It is important to understand that although states are making progress towards reopening, we have not yet reached the stage of what we are calling ‘the new normal.’ Partial reopening plans may feel like a green light for us, but it is just one step in a long process. After feeling the effects of quarantine fatigue for so many weeks, it may be tempting to get back out into the world to try to alleviate those feelings we’re having. This will only compound the problem and cause another infection spike. The key here is to figure out what we can put into place at home so that our mental health feels manageable without putting others at risk of contracting the virus.”

Tips to Deal with Quarantine Fatigue

So what can we do to work through quarantine fatigue? Dr. Marques and members of the Department of Psychiatry at Mass General offer the following tips:

1. Practice Mindfulness: While mindfulness may not feel like a normal practice to some, it is an effective strategy that can help manage stress and actually change your brain.

Mindfulness is being present, purposeful and nonjudgmental in the moment you’re existing within. Over time, practicing mindfulness can activate, and even strengthen, connections in our prefrontal cortex, which plays an important role in attention.

2. Recharge Through Eating, Sleeping and Exercise: Proper nutrition, exercising for at least 30 minutes a day and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night have major effects on our mood and mental health, immune system and helps to improve our memory and concentration.

3. Connect with Others: While we may need to be physically distant from our friends and loved ones, we don’t need to be socially distant. Robert Waldinger, MD, director of the Center for Psychodynamic Therapy and Research at Mass General, says that a 75-year-long study on happiness has shown that one of the top predictors of how happy and healthy you are is the quality of your relationships. Use this extra time to reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, make family dinner a fun event and invest in the relationships around you.

Additional Resources

The Department of Psychiatry has put together a curated set of resources to help patients and providers work through the stress of COVID-19. View the department's General Mental Health and Coping guide.