Health experts with the Army Public Health Center and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research say there are things everyone can do to help lower stress and reduce “shelter fatigue” in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
Health experts with the Army Public Health Center and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research say there are things everyone can do to help lower stress and reduce “shelter fatigue” in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. (Photo Credit: Graham Snodgrass) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – When will the COVID-19 pandemic end?

Since March, many Soldiers and Civilians have been practicing social distancing and wearing masks when they go out to purchase essential goods. At this point, some people may feel like they are ready to get out there and start participating in the activities they enjoyed prior to COVID-19, such as traveling, attending barbeques with friends, or going to concerts, without taking any special precautions.

This temptation to relax adherence to public health guidelines is called shelter fatigue – and it’s real. People may feel impatient with the rules and restrictions of the pandemic.

Even if those rules and restrictions were designed to protect individuals and their community, feeling this kind of “shelter” fatigue is understandable.

Studies of prolonged isolation show environmental conditions can have an impact on your psychological and physical health. When people live in a confined space or don’t have access to in-person social connections, they may feel disengaged and their stress levels rise. Even not being able to engage in daily habits like going to the gym or to the workplace may increase stress and fuel a sense of “shelter” fatigue.

Yet as tempting as it is to return to life as it was, the reality is that the pandemic hasn’t waned enough to let us relax our guard. Public health experts warn about the dangers of being complacent, but there are things you can do to help reduce your stress and reduce “shelter fatigue” so that you can stay vigilant and continue to do your part in the battle against COVID-19.

The following recommendations can help you reduce “shelter” fatigue.

Check your physical environment

Is there a way to create different areas within your home that give you a sense of moving from place to place? If you have one area designated for sleeping, one for eating, one for playing and one for working, it can be easier to create a sense of movement, rhythm and change even if you are in the same barracks room, apartment or house.

Is there a way to declutter your space? Having a physical space that is free from clutter can help people feel calmer and less stressed. Some clutter is inevitable so think through how you might designate certain places in your home as “clutter free” and move your clutter to one confined area. That will help keep a border between you and clutter.

Can you bring in greenery into your home? Plants are not only good in terms of decorations, studies show that exposure to greenery reduces stress and can even improve physical health.

Check your sleep, circadian rhythm, and exercise patterns

Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. It is one of the most important healthy habits that can help you in terms of your physical health, your resistance to infection, your mental health and your ability to think clearly. Be sure to create a comfortable sleep area, establish a sleep routine, and prioritize getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Be sure to get some daily exposure to natural light – open a window or go outside for a walk.

Remember to keep yourself physically fit. Exercise is an excellent way to reduce emotional stress and the effects can be immediate.

As you stay physically active, remember to stay hydrated with water and eat balanced meals regularly.

Focus on what you can control

Check in with yourself and see how you are doing emotionally. Almost everyone is experiencing some degree of stress related to the pandemic and safer at home restrictions. Is there a pattern to the stressful moments? Identify the triggers and see if you can put something in place to stay ahead of them.

If weekends are tough because you feel lonely, schedule regular phone calls with friends in anticipation of these more difficult moments.

Create a routine that works for you

Creating a schedule or routine will help you to keep a sense of normalcy during these abnormal times. Teleworking and staying home may contribute to feeling fatigued, because you may actually be working longer hours and workload demands may increase.

Parents with children are balancing childcare or engaging school age children during the day while trying to do their own work. By sticking to a schedule and having realistic expectations of everyone – including yourself -- you can help make sure the workload stays predictable, structured, and balanced.

Build on the positives

Creating a gratitude list can be helpful. Place this list where you can see it daily, such as your refrigerator. Read it daily to remind yourself of all that you have going for you in your life. Many topics can go on a gratitude list, including employment during the pandemic, which is especially true for military and Department of Defense civilians.

If you are finding yourself in conflict with people close to you, practice gratitude and acceptance. Remember that everyone is stressed. This experience may be taking a toll on them too.

Consider the impact that sheltering at home is having on those close to you. How can you reach out and help your family and friends? What might you be able to do to help to support others you care about?

Focus on the positive aspects of health and healthy relationships. There are a number of excellent websites offering subscriptions to daily affirmations that can help you maintain a positive mindset.

It’s also important to reinforce your positive outlook by practicing positive self-talk; however, give yourself permission to not be okay all of the time – and remember you are not alone. This is tough on everyone. Just by remembering to do your part to and stay safer at home or wear a facemask, you can be part of the solution.

Set goals to accomplish while home

Sheltering at home can provide an opportunity to accomplish some new or longtime goals. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take an online class.
  • Make new homemade recipes
  • Create a booklist to read
  • Enroll in an online fitness class and participate in virtual online fitness challenges
  • Learn how to play a musical instrument
  • Work on an art project
  • Learn a new language
  • Practice Yoga
  • Make a home project list (consider planting an herb garden)

Limit the time you spend watching the news

Sheila Teresa Murphy, associate professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, says now is the time to consciously dial down bad news. If you know the news about the pandemic is a trigger, keep yourself on a careful diet of news consumption to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed.

Murphy recommends three strategies for managing your news consumption:

  • Don’t binge-watch TV news. Instead, consume news about COVID-19 in moderation.
  • Consume news judiciously from reputable journalism organizations or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Consider the source when consuming social media accounts of the virus; the content is not regulated and can include conspiracies and conjecture.

Murphy says even better is to turn the news off completely and watch a movie, read a book or do something you enjoy. Take small moments and find a way to laugh, such as watching a comedian or funny animal video.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way to ease the mind and help you center yourself and decrease anxiety. You can practice mindfulness by sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing and senses. Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to reduce anxiety and improve working memory and attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the website, which offers mindfulness information, exercises and videos.

Also, check out this quick guide on how to practice mindfulness:

Stay in touch with friends and family

Calling people or connecting via a digital platform is a good way to stay in touch. Consider going the old-fashioned route by writing a letter or sending a card.

Talk to a health professional

If you need additional support, most health providers now offer virtual appointments in the comfort of your home, including behavioral health.

Here are some resources you can use to help with managing your stress:

Pinterest has a new section on family activities during isolation

Community Resource Guides (CRGs)

The Community Resource Guide is a one-stop shop for information on health and wellness resources across Army installations worldwide tailored for each installation. Community resource guides are tools to help leaders and community members identify programs that promote health and strengthen physical, mental and spiritual resilience in their local military community. You can find a directory of all Army installation CRGs. You can also download the CRG app to your phone. Search for “Army Community Resource Guides” in the iTunes or Google Play store.

The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through studies, surveys and technical consultations.