“I feel fried,” said Erin H., a social media and event coordinator at a Midwestern university, whose work once inspired and excited her but currently seems like an unpleasant cocktail of boredom, dread and exhaustion. (She asked that her last name not be used so as not to upset her employers.) Things take longer to get done, she said, in part because she doesn’t want to do them.
“I’m out of ideas and have zero motivation to even get to a point where I feel inspired,” she wrote, responding to a request by The New York Times for people to describe their work- related challenges in Month 13 of the pandemic. “Every time my inbox dings, I feel a pang of dread.”
None of that is surprising, said Margaret Wehrenberg, an expert on anxiety and the author of the book “Pandemic Anxiety: Fear, Stress, and Loss in Traumatic Times.” A year of uncertainty, of being whipsawed between anxiety and depression, of seeing expert predictions wither away and goal posts shift, has left many people feeling that they are existing in a kind of fog, the world shaded in gray.
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“When people are under a long period of chronic, unpredictable stress, they develop behavioral anhedonia,” Dr. Wehrenberg said, meaning the loss of the ability to take pleasure in their activities. “And so they get lethargic, and they show a lack of interest — and obviously that plays a huge role in productivity.”
Nearly 700 people responded to The Times’s questions, and the picture they painted was of a work force at its collective wits’ end. We heard from a clergyperson, a pastry chef, an I.C.U. nurse, a probation officer, a fast-food worker. Budget analysts, librarians, principals, college students holed up in childhood bedrooms, project managers, interns, real estate agents — their mood was strikingly similar, though their circumstances were different. As one respondent said, no matter how many lists she makes, “I find myself falling back into deep pajamaville.”
“I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who cannot say that the last year hasn’t been the hardest they’ve ever had,” Elizabeth Abend, 41, said in an interview. As head of human resources at a small chain of boutique fitness studios, Ms. Abend, who lives in Manhattan, has faced a cascade of challenges: having to tell casual employees there was no work; navigating uncertainty over when, and how, to reopen; pivoting to new digital services. And there has been loneliness, the death of her beloved dog, her own severe bout with Covid-19 last spring and the need, she said, “to be an adult human and pay bills and eat meals and all of that amid the exhaustion of having our entire world turned on its head.”