What is 'quarantine fatigue' and what can you do to fight it?

We’re now on Day Who Knows of quarantine and, while some areas of the country are starting to open up again, plenty of others are still on lockdown. And for many, that’s starting to get old, fast.

A new study that tracked smartphone data found that some people are starting to rebel against stay-at-home orders. The analysis, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland, found a nationwide shift during the week of April 13. It was small, but it was there. Several graphs that detail a state-by-state breakdown show that people in certain states are venturing out more, even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the U.S.

"Quarantine fatigue" may be on the rise, but health experts warn this can be a dangerous mindset. (Credit: Getty)
"Quarantine fatigue" may be on the rise, but health experts warn this can be a dangerous mindset. (Credit: Getty Images)

The phenomenon has been deemed “quarantine fatigue,” and people are opening up about it on Twitter:

But health experts warn this can be a dangerous mindset. “Coronavirus wants to kill you,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. “Coronavirus doesn’t care that people are tired and fatigued. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s true.”

Still, while most people are at least aware, on some level, of the scary health complications of COVID-19, they’re starting to go out more anyway.

What’s going on here?

“It’s similar to cabin fever, but more directly related to how people are feeling with regard to the quarantine, being isolated, and having to stay inside,” Dr. Jen Hartstein, Yahoo Life’s Mental Health Contributor and practicing psychologist in New York City, tells Yahoo Life. “It can feel like physical and mental exhaustion for many. And, as a result of it, many people may be pushing the limits of social isolation.”

This situation is also unprecedented, and it’s something people weren’t mentally prepared for, Thea Gallagher, clinic director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania's Perlman School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “Many of us were OK with doing it at first, but to be going on two months of it is overwhelming,” she says. “It’s really hard.”

Being isolated like this also goes against how most people prefer to behave, Ken Yeager, a psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “People are basically social beings,” he says. “While being at home is protective, it does nothing to meet our social needs.”

The unknown factor that’s involved with quarantine is especially tough, Hartstein says. “Quarantine causes a certain kind of stress for many of us…the unknown of when things will return to ‘normal,’” she says. “That taxes us emotionally.”

As a result of all of this, people just want to get out. “It’s understandable,” Gallagher says. “But it’s just not a good idea right now.”

So, what can you do to fight quarantine fatigue?

First, Gallagher says that it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and that you’re feeling frustrated right now. “It’s OK to want to go and do things again,” she says.

Getting outside when you can is also important, Yeager says, as long as you can still maintain social distancing. “Get outside and walk, as fresh air helps with feeling trapped,” he says. “Many who struggle are those who have limited ability to get outside.”

Regular phone calls and video chats with friends and loved ones can also help, he says. And, while you’re at it, try to think of new, fun things you can do with your friends from a distance. “The antidote for quarantine fatigue is interacting with others in new and different ways,” Yeager says.

"Mindfulness and yoga can be helpful," Jason Moser, a psychologist and director of Michigan State University's Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, tells Yahoo Life. "None of these have to take very long, just enough to check in and try and get some focus and relief."

Feel like you’re going to lose it if you can’t break free? Gallagher recommends going for a short drive in your car. It allows you to see things outside of your immediate vicinity but also keeps you at a protected distance from others.

But overall, experts stress that it’s OK to feel this way. “It’s hard to think of long-term vs. short-term gains,” Gallagher says. “Just keep reminding yourself that suffering in the short term will hopefully help in the long term.”

Watkins agrees. “It just isn’t worth it to get careless,” he says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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