Opinion piece contributed by IHSD parent Nora Melendez. (Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and official policies of IHSD.)

Pandemic Fatigue. It’s a term that is new but increasingly personal for many of us. It’s the realization that we, as a collective and as individuals, have reached a point where we are bone tired. Frustrated, more worried about our health, wealth, and longevity. One day, we are ok and not so much the next. Getting to emotional extremes is easier.

It’s hard to focus, tough to get on task. It’s easier to get upset about things that were tolerable before. The screaming kids, the unstable job, the house a mess. What happened to that once stable individual that could handle it all? Where did that strong lady go who was the rock for everyone else?

Today, she feels a bit more squishy from the extra pounds gained from stress eating.

We, parents of young children, may have been lucky that preschools had the ability and option to open in the fall. We were able to get some relief from the pressures of having ALL the kids at home, ALL the time. But some older children had to take classes solely through distance learning, which added the pressure of homeschooling to our full parenting plate. All the while balancing outside work schedules, managing the anxiety over losing a job, and worries over the Coronavirus, and then add the duties of running a household, laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and childcare which never stopped.

I contemplated having a “Friendsgiving” with people I hadn’t seen in over a year. I was excited to be able to spend time with some of my favorite people. Then the Covid-19 infections skyrocketed. I was forced to agree with my friends that we should postpone. It was a bummer.

It’s now mid-December and the Pandemic Fatigue is real. Today, especially, feels more overwhelming and even oppressive.

On the other days, it may seem “ok” to go see extended family in a couple of weeks. It may sound like a good idea to travel out of state to meet the new grandkid. It may seem fine since you’ve been so careful the whole year. You don’t know anyone that has been infected with Covid or actually died. It may even be thrilling to do something just a little risky. The consequences don’t seem that immediate. You just need a real, live hug!

I am so done with this pandemic!

These and other similar thoughts are normal. It’s ok to want to see your family. We need that human connection and ability to “let go” that we took for granted before. Zoom will never duplicate the warm fuzzies we feel when we get our cheeks squeezed by Grandma or Tia.

I mentioned to my husband that last year, due to a different situation in our lives, how we were fighting to keep the family together. And that this year, we couldn’t help BUT BE together. He said that it had been unimaginable for him to be home and not work. He thought how hard it would be to stay and take care of the kids all day. The world takes many turns, and in a short time can turn everything sideways. We laughed a little at the irony.

I know many other parents are feeling the fatigue too. They are also tired and so over this pandemic. We all just want it to stop so we can feel normal again. We want to be able to go out on a whim, and not have to worry about something deadly knocking down our doors as a consequence. I’m hopeful that day will arrive soon.

We must work together with our medical experts, scientific researchers, government agencies, schools, and community to come up with a plan and solutions that protect us all. Covid-19 then will become something in our rear-view mirror. Though this virus may never really go away, so we need to continue to be vigilant, and patient. A vaccine is on the way and seems promising, but it could be months before it is made widely available. For now, staying home and staying put is the best we can do for each other and our loved ones.

But what do we do in the meantime? How can we manage anxiety, depression/sadness, isolation, and fatigue? Anxiety comes from lacking a sense of control and too much uncertainty. The pandemic has brought on a huge sense of loss, which can lead to depression. When we juggle too many things all at once, while also considering threats to our health and finances, we feel fatigued.

It’s important to take care of yourself first. Parents are notorious for always thinking of others before themselves. You have my permission to be a little bit more selfish these days. The important thing to remember is that if you are not well, everyone else can suffer for it. Take time to sit still and just breathe deeply, and meditate. The extra oxygen to your brain will help you think more clearly.

Get off social media. I recently added a mindless block puzzle game on my phone. I click on that first, before my favorite site. I have cut down on my “doom scrolling” quite a bit. I also recently added alarm reminders for my Kindergartener for his online classes. Alexa reminds him to do his work, on my behalf. So scheduling break time for yourself is important too. Carve out a quick walk after lunch, time to read a book or any favorite activity that recharges your battery. Active self-care, or exercise, will also replenish your energy, give you a serotonin boost and help to reduce stress. Get your friends, spouse, or partner in on it. Chit chat around the block, masks on of course. If your friends don’t live close by or you’re a single parent, some nice alone time away from the kids and a never-ending to-do list is great. Or take the kids with you, walking does a young body good too.

During these very difficult times, as we’ve made hard decisions and have dealt with the toughest problems, there is comfort in knowing that we will get through this, but only if we continue to take care of each other.

Because as humans, taking care of each other is our birthright as well as our responsibility.

We may not be able to return to what we had before. Today, we are creating what our new lives will be like in 2021. This year, we were all put in a position to be creative, more flexible, to bob and weave, to reimagine ourselves as individuals in this interconnected and interdependent world. My husband learned that spending time with his family was truly important and that childcare is not so scary. I learned that even when I am feeling most fatigued, it’s important to take care of myself first, even when self-care is last on my list.