The Onset of COVID Fatigue | Exploring Collective Pandemic Exhaustion

Written by Nathan at 2nd April 2021

The Onset of COVID Fatigue

exploring COVID fatigue

Key Takeaways:

  • People in their 20s were the most likely to say they were extremely fatigued by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 67.8% of people said they plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them.
  • People were less likely to follow all the COVID-19 precautions we asked about now than they were at the beginning of the pandemic, with the exception of mask wearing, which slightly more people said they were doing now.
  • People 60+ were the most likely to say they trust the vaccine to protect them from COVID-19.

One year into the pandemic, COVID fatigue is setting in. People are tired of being socially distanced, wearing masks in public, and having to disinfect their groceries. Why can’t life just go back to normal? The good news is that there is hope as the vaccine continues to be rolled out. The bad news is we still have an indeterminate amount of time until we reach herd immunity.

We decided to investigate how people are handling COVID fatigue. How have our behaviors changed? And who is going to be first in line for the vaccine? We surveyed over 1,000 people about their feelings of COVID fatigue, which safety precautions they’re still upholding, and which ones have fallen by the wayside. While the mental health burden may be heaviest among young adults, every generation is feeling the impact of COVID. Keep reading to see what we discovered about COVID fatigue and what may be in store for the future.

Feelings of COVID Fatigue

For the first part of our study, we explored the approximate levels of fatigue experienced by people living in these turbulent times and what they think could be the root of these pessimistic feelings.


Most people reported feeling some level of COVID-19 fatigue, with only 6.5% of our respondents saying they’re not fatigued at all. The majority of respondents said they’re “very fatigued” by COVID-19, and 13.6% reported feeling “extremely fatigued” by it. People in their 20s were the most likely to say they were “extremely fatigued” by the pandemic. A large part of this could be due to young adults being hit the hardest by feelings of loneliness during the pandemic.

Isolation and loneliness were a contributing factor to people’s COVID fatigue, but they were not the most commonly cited factor. By far, the biggest contributing factor to COVID fatigue among our respondents was other people not taking the pandemic seriously (25.6%). Other common fatigue-inducing factors were how taxing the pandemic is on mental health and not getting to do the things they want. Scientists are actively studying the mental health ramifications of the pandemic, and one year into COVID, the data doesn’t look good as we see a surge in depression.

For 7.7% of respondents, the primary driver of their COVID fatigue was that it feels like “old news,” and it appears people are discussing it less frequently these days. Whereas early on in the pandemic, nearly one-third of people said they were always discussing COVID-19, today that number has dropped to less than 1 in 5. More than twice as many people said they rarely discuss COVID-19 now, compared to the early days of the pandemic. Interestingly, however, fewer people said they never discuss the virus currently versus the beginning of the pandemic, which may reflect the major impact the coronavirus is having on more people’s lives.


When we look at when people started easing their habits around the pandemic, it’s clear the new year proved a major hurdle for people. After so much hope and optimism for 2021, the new year didn’t bring the fresh start many may have been hoping for. And yet, a fair number of people appeared to have created their own fresh start by easing their health-safety habits for 2021. Nonetheless, nearly 50% of people said they haven’t relaxed their behavior around COVID-19 guidelines at all throughout the pandemic – which is good news considering experts are urging people to remember the fight is not over and that we must stay diligent.

Changing Precautions

It’s clear the fight against COVID-19 is far from over, despite over a year of more-or-less diligent health safety measures, but just how much have these precautions changed given this no-end-in-sight timeline? In the next part of our study, we dived deeper into the actions people have taken against the spread of COVID-19 from the beginning until now.


As people have begun easing their habits around COVID-19, it follows that they’re taking COVID-19 guidelines less seriously. While over 41% of people took COVID-19 guidance extremely seriously at the beginning of the pandemic, now, under 34% said the same. People were more likely to say they’re taking the guidance “very seriously” than “extremely seriously” at present. There’s also been an increase in the number of people who take following COVID-19 guidelines only somewhat, a little, or not at all seriously, compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

The easing of COVID restrictions too soon has prompted some health experts to issue a warning that doing so could cause a rise in new variants of the virus. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has said daily cases are “absolutely not” low enough to warrant a slackening of public health safety measures.

People’s change in attitude toward COVID-19 guidelines can prove stressful if the people around you stop taking the guidance seriously. If someone close to you isn’t taking the guidelines as seriously as you’d like, experts advise asking yourself how their behavior affects you. If it’s someone you see in person, you may want to address the issue outright, but if you don’t see them regularly, it may not be worth addressing.

We can see this more relaxed attitude in the easing of COVID-19 health and safety precautions throughout the pandemic. People reported participating less in all safety practices with the exception of one: wearing a mask in public. Around 86.4% of people reported they’re wearing a mask in public now, compared to 85.6% of people who wore a mask at the start of the pandemic.

A Brighter Vaccinated Future

It’s safe to say getting “back to normal” is a hope pretty much everyone going through this unprecedented time can agree on. However, just how we accomplish this may vary depending on whom you talk to. Despite a hard year of COVID fatigue, there is still hope for the future thanks to the recent rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Nearly 12% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and President Joe Biden has directed the states to open vaccinations to all adults by May 1 in the hopes that doing so would enable Americans to celebrate Independence Day 2021 in person. However, not everyone is so sure of these vaccine hopes.


Our respondents admitted being largely hopeful the vaccine will get things back to normal. Over 92% said they’re at least a little hopeful that the vaccine will bring normalcy back. Most people (32.5%) were somewhat hopeful about this, while 28% were very hopeful, and over 16% were extremely hopeful. The top activities people reported being eager to return to once vaccinated were travel and getting together with loved ones.

The vast majority of people said they trust the vaccine, but 23.1% felt uncertain, and 16.6% said they don’t trust it to protect them from COVID-19. Despite this uncertainty, almost 68% of respondents said they plan to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.

Older generations were the most likely to say they trust the vaccine. Over 64% of those age 60 and over said they trust the vaccine, which is good given older adults are at greater risk of hospitalization if they get COVID-19. One expert has estimated COVID-19 is 50 times more deadly to a 60-year-old than driving a car. Getting vaccinated is particularly important for adults age 65 and over, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Thirty-somethings were the next most trusting demographic with 63.6% of people trusting the vaccine. The least trusting demographic were 20-somethings, nearly 1 in 5 of who said they don’t trust the vaccine. That being said, the most vehement group was 50-somethings. People in their 50s were the most likely to say they’ve gotten into an argument about the vaccine.

Better Remembered or Forgotten?

Once we do move past this whole global pandemic thing, what happens next? Will our pandemic experiences seep from our everyday lives into the entertainment media of the future, or will we leave this time period in the dust as we regain normalcy? Many people suffering from COVID fatigue want for it all to go away. Some experts have said we may indeed “forget” COVID in time; after all, we “forgot” about the 1918 flu pandemic. But, is that what people really want? According to our survey, it may be.

Over half of people said they have no desire to see a pandemic depicted in a movie or TV after having lived through this one. Conversely, 26.3% said they’d be open to the idea. If a movie or TV show were to be made about the pandemic, people were most hopeful to see Tom Hanks cast in it.

Psychology experts have said TV shows and movies can provide an escape from the fear and anxiety of COVID, and apocalypse-type films can even be soothing as they offer insights into worst-case scenarios and provide a definitive ending as opposed to all the uncertainty people are currently experiencing. This may explain why “Contagion” and other pandemic-related movies are spiking in popularity. So perhaps the answer to COVID fatigue is to escape into someone else’s life for a while, and let them handle the mental strain of living with a pandemic.

Combatting COVID fatigue

COVID fatigue is a very real concern. Over 90% of respondents said they’re experiencing some level of it. As a result, many people are loosening their COVID precautions, which may only add to others’ stress. Unfortunately, combatting COVID fatigue is easier said than done. Overcoming COVID fatigue starts with understanding where it’s coming from, namely the prolonged stress we’re all under coupled with unprecedented levels of uncertainty. Other experts recommend focusing on what you can control and staying as active as possible.

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Methodology

We surveyed 1,002 people about their experiences with COVID fatigue. Respondents were 53% women and 46.5% men. Three respondents were nonbinary, and two respondents chose not to disclose their gender. The average age of respondents was 42 with a standard deviation of 14.1 years.

Respondents were asked to report what COVID precautions and safety measures they practiced at the start of the pandemic and nearly a year later in February 2021. These questions were asked as check-all-that-apply questions. Therefore, percentages won’t necessarily total 100.

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Hopefully you found this information helpful in understanding COVID fatigue and what it means for you. If you think someone you know could benefit from these findings, we’d love for you to share them but ask that you only do so for noncommercial purposes. Also, please include a link back to this page so they can view our results in their entirety. Thank you.