My article on KevinMD about ‘pandemic paralysis’

I’ve been feeling it. I know you have, too. I shared some of my recent feelings about everything going on in an article published on Here it is:

Pandemic dysphoria and pandemic paralysis: How to get through it

I’ve had to give myself a break recently and extend myself some grace. I hope, especially if you’re an essential worker, parent, or caretaker, that you have, as well. During this crazy coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been trying to take care of my patients, my husband, my children, and, lastly, myself, and through it all, my moods have waxed and waned. Like the rest of the world, I’ve felt mad, sad, scared, grateful, and then sad again, and I’ve reached out to friends and colleagues, particularly my mental health and psychiatry folks, to make sense of what is happening. Surely, some new pathology will come out of this crisis and already has, but I’ve been naming some new conditions and new terms recently. I searched some online resources to see if anyone was using certain terms, and I couldn’t find them, such as pandemic dysphoria, pandemic dysthymia, or pandemic paralysis. So, let’s talk about what I think those are now.

Pandemic dysphoria is a feeling of being low or having a down mood and down affect (which means the type of facial expressions, tone, and speech you have.) I believe this has been widespread during this global crisis and is likely new for many people who were stable and content prior to everything going haywire.

Dysthymia is a condition, and that essentially means having a chronically low level of underlying depression. I have certainly felt this at times and have treated patients with more dysthymia than usual, due to the pandemic and its effects on their medical, physical, and mental health. “Clinical” depression is different in that it seems to happen in episodes in 6 to 12 months worth of symptoms that can improve with treatment. Dysthymia is more of a chronic state that people can suffer from.

Pandemic paralysis (paralysis, meaning, of course, loss of function or movement of your limbs) can be used in an emotional way, where you procrastinate, you can’t move, you can’t act, and you’re not doing the tasks that you need or have to do, etc. I think these issues now can be related to pandemic more because of what’s going on. Because of COVID-19, quarantine, politics, protests, going back to virtual school, I at times felt like, “I have these things to do, but I just can’t move right now.”

These are our new terms that I think are situational, given all the things that are happening now, and if we were not in the middle of a whole crisis and pandemic, they would not be occurring. Hopefully, things will return to whatever “normal” is, but in the meantime, here are some things I’m going to do to help not feel stuck in paralysis:

  1. Schedule your first appointments or meetings as phone calls (or telemedicine, if you’re in the medical field) before going into the office.
  2. On the days that you work from home, make sure one is closed or scarcely scheduled.
  3. Rest when you need to. Lie down when you need to lie down. Yes, even during the day.
  4. Schedule more mental health days off.
  5. Stop. And then, start again.

I hope this helps all of us get to the other side more whole and more happy.

C. Nicole Swiner is a family physician and can be reached at #docswiner.

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