Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of psychology at Kent State University and author of “Sooth Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic and Fear,” says people become frustrated and defiant in a state of chronic stress. “People say, ‘It doesn’t matter to me anymore,'” she said. “When you’re at that level, it means you’re just overwhelmed, you feel helpless, you feel hopeless. You say, ‘Do whatever you can, I don’t care.’ “
This apathy can affect public health on a global scale. The World Health Organization last year released a policy framework citing “epidemic fatigue” as a major obstacle for people to follow COVID precautions. In January this year, researchers found that as the pandemic spread, people reported less adherence to social distancing measures.
Look for symptoms of ‘anxiety burnout’.
You avoid the news. You may feel like you can’t handle another ominous headline or hear another update on the virus, Dr. Gallagher said. He himself realized this recently when he stumbled upon a news broadcast and immediately changed channels. “I was like, I’m going to do a ‘Seinfeld’ replay instead,” she said.
You feel numb. Dr. Judson Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University, and author of “Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycle from Anxiety and Fear to Heal Your Mind.” Maybe the stress has prompted us to look for solutions to make the lockdown more tolerable in the early days of the pandemic; Now, he said, many of us have learned that we can’t control much from our personal behavior.
“If we spend all our time worrying, it’s like turning on our engine, putting our car in neutral, slamming on the gas, and wondering why we’re not going anywhere,” he said.
Battling that constant uncertainty makes us wonder, consciously or subconsciously, what it means to care and why we should even bother paying attention to the news at all. This emotional numbness has also appeared in victims of natural disasters and in health care workers.
You are tired all the time. After an acute period of anxiety, people often feel sad and hopeless, Dr. Newman said. Whether the source of worry is a global disaster or day-to-day stress at work or family, anxiety constantly scans us for threats until we reach the point of exhaustion, she said.