October 7, 2021

How the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic Is Taking a Toll on Mental Health

8 ways to cope with the stress of a long-haul pandemic

older woman sad looking out window

When the pandemic started, none of us imagined that we’d still be social distancing and wearing masks well over a year later. But here we are. And as the months drag on (and on… and on…), many of us are feeling even more exhausted, irritated and drained.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“People are frustrated,” says Licensed Mental Health counselor Anne Posey, LMHC. “We’re really feeling the impacts of the pandemic, and we’re tired of it.”

It’s been a long haul, and it’s not over yet. But it won’t last forever, Posey notes — and there are tools to help you get through to the other side.

“Sometimes, we expect to just magically feel better, but it doesn’t usually work that way,” she adds. “If you map out a plan and do things with intention, you’ll get through this.”

How to cope with pandemic stress

In the early days of the pandemic, many people felt fear and uncertainty, Posey says. But several months in, “COVID fatigue” set in: We’re exhausted by continued restrictions, drained by endless Zoom meetings and sick of having to worry about if we could get toilet paper and hand sanitizer at the store.

As we continue to navigate “the new normal,” there are some things we can do to protect and preserve our mental health. Posey offers these eight strategies:

1. Change your perspective

The way you frame things can make a big difference in your mood and mental health. If you focus on the negative, that’s how you’ll feel — so try to look at challenges in a new way. “Instead of telling yourself ‘I’m so tired of not seeing my friends, I can’t keep doing this,’ reframe it to say, ‘I’m doing something for the greater good, and this won’t last forever,” Posey says.

2. Let worry inspire change

Worrying for worrying’s sake doesn’t do you any good — unless it spurs you to make changes, Posey says. “If you find you’re anxious about something in particular, try to problem-solve.”

Instead of dwelling on whether you might lose your job because of the pandemic, take action by updating your resume, looking at job listings or talking to your boss about your concerns. If the worst happens and you find yourself unemployed, you’ll be in a better position to respond. “You can handle challenges if you have a plan,” Posey adds.

3. Think about how you’ve handled past challenges

You’ve probably gone through hard times in the past. “Look back at the times you struggled. How did you get through it? Who was supportive? What good advice did you get?” Posey says. “Remember that you’re resilient. Draw on those skills to get through the day.”


4. Take care of yourself

You’ve heard it before: Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep and don’t drink too much. But it really does make a difference in how you feel. If you’re still using the pandemic as an excuse to indulge (Why not eat this whole carton of ice cream? It’s a pandemic!), it might be time to try a new strategy.

5. Keep a routine

Just because you can wear pajamas all day and take lunchtime naps doesn’t mean you should. “Routines are good for you,” Posey says. “You might need to map out a healthy eating plan, set a regular bedtime and schedule a 30-minute walk each day.”

6. Reach out

After months of living and working remotely, virtual happy hours have lost some of their sparkle. But it’s as important as ever to stay connected to friends and family — even if you have to get creative to do it.

Send a care package to a friend you’re missing. Meet a pal outside for a socially distant walk or just pick up the phone. It might feel like it takes too much effort. But once you connect, you’ll be glad you did.

7. Stay in the present

It’s easy for your stress to spiral if you start thinking, “What if?” To avoid getting lost in a rabbit hole of worry, try to stay in the moment. “We don’t know what the future holds. Try to focus on what you’ll do this week instead of worrying about what will be happening a year from now,” says Posey.

8. Look for silver linings

You don’t have to be an eternal optimist who sees the bright side of everything. Even pessimists and realists can benefit from looking for the little gifts inside this pandemic. Maybe you don’t have to set your alarm quite so early or deal with a commute. Maybe you’re getting to spend more time with your teens now that you’re all staying home.

It might be as simple as a new appreciation for the loved ones you’re eager to see again when this is all over. Figure out what your gifts are and pay attention to them.

Should I consider therapy?

Another silver lining of the pandemic? “Mental health care is more accessible than ever,” Posey says. Thanks to new telehealth options, you can talk to a mental health specialist without leaving your home.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed every day, and it’s been going on for at least a couple of weeks, Posey recommends getting some help. “If you had a headache that lasted a week or two, you’d talk to a doctor. Why wouldn’t you do the same if you’re feeling down?” she asks.


How the pandemic has made us more aware of our mental health

While the arrival of COVID-19 has brought on more stress and anxiety, it’s also caused more Americans to pay attention to their mental health.

According to the results of the 2021 Healthy Now survey that was commissioned by Parade Media and Cleveland Clinic, 82% of respondents said that mental health is just as important as physical health. This was a significant increase from 2018 when only 68% strongly agreed with that statement.

Another thing that the survey revealed — while many Americans have grown emotionally throughout the pandemic, its lingering effects continue to affect them negatively.

About 60% of Americans are more likely to feel stressed, anxious and/or depressed this fall as compared to 50% during the fall of 2020. Fifty-six percent of respondents said that they’ve felt their anxiety, depression and/or stress levels rise as the number of COVID-19 cases increase.

Other survey results revealed:

  • Two-thirds (65%) of respondents agreed that the pandemic has made them feel more connected to their family and friends than ever before.
  • Three out of 10 (30%) Americans stated they felt more kindness from strangers, family and/or friends since the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions.
  • More than half of consumers (52%) stated that the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine made their mental or emotional health better.
  • About 1/3 of Americans believe that dealing with the pandemic, despite its hardships and challenges, has made them emotionally stronger by:
    • Teaching them to be more empathetic toward others (33%).
    • Helping them learn positive coping behaviors to handle stress and anxiety (32%).
    • Increasing their desire to give back and help others (30%).

It’s been a challenging time, but we’ll get through this

After months of social distancing and doomscrolling, even the peppiest among us feels the wear and tear. But there is help and if you need it, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Posey suggests trying to keep a positive mindset when you can. Not every day will be filled with sunshine, rainbows, puppies and kittens. That’s totally fine. Know that it’s OK to feel what you feel. Just try not to stay in a place of despair.

“It’s a difficult time,” Posey says. “But we can set the intention to do things that will help us get through this.”

Related Articles

person sitting in a growing flower, as they're watering the pot from above
February 9, 2024
Self-Love: Why It’s Important and What You Can Do To Love Yourself

Like being your own best friend in times of trouble, self-love is an act of self-preservation

crowd of people at music concert
February 5, 2024
What Constitutes a ‘Superspreader Event’?

Any large social gathering — from a family birthday party to an indoor music concert — has the potential to spread serious infection

person standing on exclamation point holding up a No. 1 finger, wearing cape and mask in front of crowd
February 1, 2024
How To Make the Most of Your ‘Villain Era’

It’s not about embracing your dark side — it’s about showing up for yourself

Male with eyes closed sitting hunched over, pinching area between their eyes
January 29, 2024
Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

Silhouette of person turned away from group of people talking
January 23, 2024
How the Grey Rock Method Can Protect You From Abusive People and Toxic Interactions

Like a boring ol’ grey rock, the goal is to be unresponsive and uninteresting to dissuade a harmful situation

Female wrapped in blanket laying on sofa looking fatigued or unwell
January 23, 2024
How To Manage COVID Fatigue and Regain Your Energy

It’s important to connect with a healthcare provider, get quality sleep and balance your activities with your energy levels

person looking at reflection in hand-held mirror
January 22, 2024
9 Signs You’re Dealing With a ‘Narcissist’ (and Why That’s the Wrong Word to Use)

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition, not an insult

Sick person on couch using tissue on nose with medication bottles on coffee table
January 19, 2024
How To Know if It’s COVID-19, a Cold or Allergies

Symptoms can overlap and be hard to distinguish, but there are some telltale differences

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture