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How to Cope with Pandemic Fatigue: For ABDs and Everyone | Issue 271

Summary: Pandemic fatigue can affect you on all levels. Get intentional about building your resilience with these proven self-care strategies.

Estimated reading time: Seven minutes that can help you avert burnout, anxiety, and depression and restore your energy and hope.


© 2020 Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C. 
Editor & Positive Psychology Coach 

Experiencing pandemic fatigue? If so, you have lots of company. 

Reports of anxiety, stress, depression, and burnout are on the rise. Here and across the globe, people are wearying of dealing with the real fears and necessary restrictions. In the northern hemisphere, winter is creeping in like an unindicted coronavirus co-conspirator. 

While you may be tempted to give up and return to pre-pandemic habits, epidemiologists warn the risk of prolonging the crisis is too high to throw caution to the wind. Let's look at how you can prevail without burning out. 

"Psychological resilience in the face of the pandemic is related to modifiable factors." ~ Killgore et al, 2020.


ABDs Higher Vulnerability to Pandemic Fatigue

Graduate students may be triply vulnerable to fatigue right now: In addition to pandemic concerns, they may also experience mid-semester and Zoom fatigue—ust as shorter days and colder weather dampen enthusiasm for safer outdoor activities. 

For many doctoral students conducting research or classes, the emotional exhaustion has become unbearable, reports the Washington Post

Graduate students have faced disruptions in their research and had their stipends stretched thin during the coronavirus crisis. They are tasked with running courses and guiding undergrads through the uncertainty of this semester, while navigating their own classes, worrying about future funding and a dismal academic job market. 

What can you do as an ABD? What can those around you do? 

First, we need to normalize the stress due to living through a pandemic. From dislocations and job loss to micro-traumas, the virus has impacted nearly every facet of daily living. 

Next, we need to consider how to fortify our psychological resilience. Given that many of our customary ways of coping with stress have been diminished, we need to focus on what is still within our control. With that in mind, here are evidence-based strategies you can implement for your own well-being during these times. 

Experts agree which dimensions of self-care make a huge difference in building our stress resilience. To make them easy to remember, I've created the acronym SANE to represent them: Sleep, Attitude, Nutrition, and Exercise. Pandemic aside, these four factors contribute heavily to our ability to prevail through challenges. 

To strengthen your own resilience, consider the following evidence-based guidelines and strategies.

S is for Sleep. Job # 1 is Getting Enough Z's

Sleep neurologists report an increase in "Covid insomnia" not just in recovering Covid patients but also in people suffering from fear and social isolation. 

Furthermore, there's been an uptick in nightmares and anxiety dreams, often revolving around pandemic-related anxieties. (In one recent dream I wandered into an overcrowded restaurant with no masks or social distancing—and woke up with my heart pounding!) 

Aim to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep. That is not a luxury! Inadequate sleep affects your mood, your attention, and even your body's immune functions. Sleep experts warn against relying on sleep medications and urge you to instead focus on developing good sleep hygiene habits such as these: 

  • Prioritize sleep. 

  • Get some daytime sun and physical activity. 

  • Develop a bedtime routine to wind down (Psst: Turn off your devices an hour before bedtime.) 

  • Reduce your alcohol intake. Skip tobacco and late-day caffeine and meals. 

  • Have a set wake-up time. 

"Sleep is the best meditation." ~ Dalai Lama


A is for Attitude. Cultivate a Positive Mood 

Start by limiting your exposure to negative triggers. A heavy diet of bad news and social media "doom scrolling" can trigger increased anxiety and other negative emotions, according to the University of Washington Medicine Right as Rain blog


Instead, take a positivity break. Pivot to activities that boost your mood energy, especially those involving mindfulness or creativity. 

"The benefits of mindfulness are both well-established and wide-ranging," notes Tom Jacobs in UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center article. "Studies on subjects ranging from college students to Marines have found the practice reduces stress and leads to higher levels of well-being." 

Check out some meditation apps, e.g., Insight Timer and Calm, to find one that works for you. My favorite meditation app for raising positivity, the Plum Village, comes from the joyful tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Han—and it is entirely free. 


Research shows that forms of artistic expression, e.g., painting, dancing, writing, sculpting, drama, music, etc., bolster resilience and overall well-being. They also improve problem solving, fatigue, depression, focus, health, and more. 

"It is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it." Hans Selye 


N is for Nutrition. Choose Healthy Foods


Remember the "Freshman 15" weight gain during your first college semester? Now people are struggling with the "Quarantine 19" these days as eating routines are disrupted. 

Surveys and informal reports show that the pandemic has changed our eating habits. Spending more time at home means we can always head to the kitchen for the treats and snacks to comfort ourselves when bored or anxious. In one UK survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents found it "very" or "somewhat" difficult to manage their weight during the pandemic. 


While our brains need a steady level of glucose to function well, most of us overdo the carbs, especially when we think we need a quick energy boost. Alas, the resultant blood sugar spike is followed by a drastic drop that causes us to literally droop. 

For resilience, research finds the Mediterranean diet, that stresses olive oil and veggies, to be superior to Western-type diets of red meats and refined foods. Additionally, making dining an event by sitting down to eat slowly with others can improve your longevity and social relationships as well as your waistline. 

To combat my own pandemic weight gain, I finally decided to try Noom, a diet and fitness app based on positive psychology and nutrition science. So far I've dropped 14 pounds in 7 weeks-without any feelings of deprivation. Whether it's Noom, WW, or some other approach, do your due diligence and give it a try. 

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." ~ Michael Pollen 


E is for Exercise. Move Your Body

If you are looking for a miracle drug, nothing beats exercise for benefits for mental and physical health. It also enhances willpower and resilience according to studies with humans and mice. 

In the Willpower Instinct, health educator Kelly McGonigle, Ph.D., reported that people who exercise three times a week ate better, experienced fewer cravings, procrastinated less, focused better, and maintained more emotional control. Who wouldn't benefit from that right now? Just five-minute bursts of activity can bust your stress, she emphasized. 

Informal accounts from those who have committed to yoga, bicycling, kayaking, walking, etc., mirror the data. Plus they get the added benefit of no longer stressing about not getting out there! 

A study done during lockdown reported greater resilience among those who went outside more often and exercised more. More social support, better sleep, and more praying also helped, investigators noted. 


Ready to Become SANE Now?

Pick just ONE of these areas to start making a change in the desired direction. Later you can expand your efforts. 


Becoming resilient involves making the right choices on a daily basis. Every act you choose to take is a vote for how you are going to feel today—and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. 

Support and accountability make success more likely. Get the encouragement you need from family, friends, and colleagues. You may also consider a positive psychology coach to help you create healthy habits to sustain you now and for the rest of your life. If you are regularly beset by depression or anxiety, call a therapist

Along the way to greater resilience, remember to be kind to yourself. If you forget or fail, just pick yourself up, give yourself a hug, and keep going without castigating yourself. No one ever bats 1.000. And no one alive today has had practice in dealing with a pandemic. It is not easy—but we can get through this. 


We are all in this together. You can do it. We can do it. 

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." ~ Helen Keller


Image credit: This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC




An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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