Is “COVID Fatigue” Impacting Americans’ Attention Span?

Do you find that you no longer feel like you can sit through a long movie like you could before the pandemic? Experts are seeing a massive drop in the attention spans or ability to concentrate by adults and suggest that COVID could be to blame.

We are now two years into a pandemic that refuses to release its deadly grip on the world. Most recently, we are now subject to the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has made up 73% of new cases in the US.

A potential side effect of the virus that impacts the infected and the non-infected alike may be our inability to concentrate on much of anything else – like a movie. Are you planning to sit through one? The latest running times for the major release like “Spiderman No  Way Home,” “House of Gucci,” and “West Side Story” are more than 2 hours, 30 minutes. Staying home to check out Netflix or HBO’s latest drama? It likely has an hour-long running time per episode.

It’s unclear whether the COVID era has had a quantifiable effect on our attention spans, though experts confirm mental exhaustion and so-called “COVID fatigue” is widespread.

USA Today spoke with several experts about the phenomenon. Here are some of the responses they received.

“COVID has pretty much eaten up my attention span,” says Kathleen Schmidt, publicity director at Skyhorse Publishing. “I can’t get through an entire book unless it’s an audiobook. The prospect of a 2.5-hour movie sounds like torture.”

Social justice advocate Lia Taylor Schwartz added, “I can’t watch a whole movie anymore. I set goals to read a single chapter of a book when previously I would have luxuriated in a good book.”

“COVID led to many people experiencing cognitive overload, whereby our brains become short-circuited due to being inundated with information our brains are trying to process,” says Crystal Burwell, director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare Atlanta. “The external stimuli and nature of the environment play a major role in attention spans and building emotional resilience to combat COVID fatigue.”

The pandemic has accelerated shifting attention spans and made it easier for people to satiate themselves with shorter-form content instead.

“This struggle was mounting since before COVID,” says Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist, and professor at Yeshiva University. “We only have a finite amount of mental resources and energy. The more and more that becomes compounded, the more we must compensate for those energy drains by cutting out the superfluous or unnecessary drains on our mental reserves.”

Do You Have Pandemic Fatigue?

Pandemic fatigue is a real thing that has been reported by the World Health Organization. The condition leaves people demotivated and exhausted with regular tasks.

“It is natural to feel this way, particularly because the pandemic is an unnatural event that has lasted much longer than anyone initially thought,” says Rachel Cavallaro, a licensed psychologist with Thriveworks in Boston. “The increased isolation has created an even greater need for stimulation and connection.”

One to two years of this “could significantly reduce your attentional capacity,” she adds.

Cavallaro continues to say that while COVID fatigue is a real thing, it affects different people differently, particularly the young vs. the old.

“It is likely that COVID fatigue is affecting age groups differently if we consider the lack of motivation for daily tasks in relation to attention spans,” Cavallaro says. “Children and young adults are going to have a harder time paying attention in school, adults are going to have a harder time completing work tasks as well as household chores, and the elderly may appear to have increased memory issues, but you cannot recall what you have not paid attention to.”

If you do want to improve your attention span, Cavallaro recommends a “healthy diet, regular exercise, meditation, and proper sleep hygiene.”Other ways suggested to combat COVID fatigue include therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness and grounding techniques to help center your mind and body to be fully present in the moment.

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