Feeling Uneasy Lately? It Could Be Pandemic Flux Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Powell, MS, Medical Sciences 

Photo Courtesy: DANIEL LEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Is the constantly changing pandemic situation giving you emotional whiplash? You may have a case of “pandemic flux syndrome.” And while it’s not an official term for a mental health condition, these feelings are having a real impact on many people as the pandemic drags on. 

Learn about pandemic flux syndrome and how you can cope with this type of stress.

What Is Pandemic Flux Syndrome?

Pandemic flux syndrome refers to the constantly changing spectrum of feelings that accompany the ups and downs of the pandemic. Amy Cuddy and JillEllyn Riley coined this term in the Washington Post to describe the endless emotional roller coaster that can leave us feeling numb or full of angst. 

The prolonged unpredictability of the pandemic causes people to lose their sense of control. Ricocheting from periods of isolation, pessimism and fear to periods of hopefulness and resuming normal activities can be very emotionally taxing. 

What’s Causing These Feelings?

This emotional overload is related to the idea of surge capacity — our ability to adapt for short-term survival during stressful situations (think fight-or-flight response). Because the pandemic has lasted far longer than a brief life-or-death situation, we’ve depleted our surge capacity and can no longer adapt as easily.

To put it simply, many of us have just reached our emotional limits. When we look at the news each day, we never know if we’ll see optimistic headlines about rising vaccination rates or alarming headlines about new variants. 

In addition to all these external stressors, many people have existing mental health conditions that can make it even harder to deal with all this uncertainty. If you’re already dealing with anxiety or depression, pandemic conditions may have a more intense effect on you.

What Does Pandemic Flux Syndrome Feel Like?

The emotional exhaustion of pandemic flux syndrome can cause a wide range of feelings. You might feel:

  • Irritable
  • Restless
  • Stressed or anxious
  • Disillusioned or depressed
  • Unfocused or unmotivated

These feelings can also lead to burnout or an urge to make drastic life changes. 

Some people also have physical reactions to prolonged stress, including:

  • Body pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Less energy
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach problems
  • Trouble sleeping

If any of these symptoms sound familiar and you feel this way on a regular basis, you may be dealing with pandemic flux syndrome. But the good news is that you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take to feel better.   

How Can I Cope with Pandemic Flux Syndrome?

The first step in coping with pandemic flux syndrome is to acknowledge your feelings on a daily basis and notice what triggers them. Once you’re in tune with your feelings, you can focus on improving your mental health and practicing self care. Try these tips:

  • Take breaks. Take a few minutes out of your day to consciously distance yourself from the flood of pandemic-related news and social media. Use this time to relax, meditate or try breathing exercises.
  • Focus on your health. Healthy habits like exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep can also support your mental health. If you drink, drink only in moderation. And if you smoke, make a plan to quit.
  • Make time for you. Pick up old activities or hobbies that brought you joy, or look for new ones. The important thing is to find something that’s meaningful to you and makes you happy.
  • Stay connected. Make it a priority to connect with friends and family. Talking about your feelings with people you trust can be very therapeutic. There are also free online support groups that can help through these difficult times. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a guide to free resources and support during the pandemic.
  • Avoid making rash decisions. Uncertain times can affect your decision making. But try not to make life-changing decisions out of pandemic-related anxiety or restlessness. Give yourself time to sit with your feelings and think more clearly about your situation.
  • Get help if you need it. If you have a mental health condition or mental health symptoms that interfere with your daily life, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional. Therapy and other treatments can help you work through your emotions and start feeling better.