Flow Activities May Help Reduce Stress from Quarantine Fatigue: Study
Thu, February 2, 2023

Flow Activities May Help Reduce Stress from Quarantine Fatigue: Study


COVID-19 lockdowns in various cities have triggered quarantine fatigue in millions of people. But according to a recent study, such a problem might be countered by flow activities, which challenge the mind.

The potential of flow activities in reducing quarantine fatigue was investigated by researchers at the University of California, Central China Normal University, and Nanjing University. Their findings suggested that those activities might help resolve stress from quarantine fatigue. The activities could counter thoughts related to uncertainty. Thus, the same activities might help those subjected by longer quarantine measures. Results were published in the journal PsyArXiv.

What is Quarantine Fatigue?

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, cities with rising cases were forced to implement lockdowns to slow down the spread of the disease. At first, the lockdowns caused cabin fever among people, wherein restlessness was apparent in those confined or stuck in a location. This form of distress was highly common in people who had nothing to do at home. Unfortunately, the cases of COVID-19 worldwide surged without a halt and forced governments to extend lockdowns several times.

Statista, a German portal for statistics, reported the different sizes of COVID-19 lockdowns based on affected populations. As of April 23, 2020, India had the largest lockdown that affected 1,380 million people. It was followed by China at 760 million people during the height of the outbreak, the US with 297 million under partial enforcement, Bangladesh at 165 million, Russia at 142 million, and the Philippines at 100 million.

Even with the threat of COVID-19, European countries at that time still had smaller lockdowns. In the UK, the partial enforcement affected 68 million people while 65 million individuals in France were impacted by full enforcement. Italy and Spain also had full enforcement that affected 60 million and 47 million people, respectively.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, an American academic medical center, irritability or restlessness from being confined for too long due to COVID-19 can lead to quarantine fatigue, in which the energy of a person appears to be drained, despite being sheltered safely. A person who is suffering from this fatigue can develop symptoms such as anxiety, abnormal eating habits, sleep problems, and demotivation or unproductiveness, and be on edge in general. At the core of these symptoms, one factor can be determined: uncertainty. Because the world is threatened by a highly contagious illness, there is no certainty of safety until a cure or vaccine has been made.

"That's part of the stress from all of this. It's just overwhelming and part of the fatigue is the uncertainty, unpredictability, and the unknowns in all of this," said Jane Pernotto Ehrman, a Master of Education in Health Education.

The uncertainty can be affected as well if the person is exposed constantly to the bad side of developing news about COVID-19. Lately, new evidence of Kawasaki-like disease in pediatric cases surfaced, while other news highlighted the potential multiorgan complications from the disease. If the person focused on those problems, instead of the insights obtained from studies, they may become anxious without realizing that more insights for doctors mean more chances for them to treat symptoms.



Flow Activities for Quarantine Fatigue

Recently, a group of researchers examined what sufferers of quarantine fatigue could do to alleviate distress. They analyzed flow activities and mindfulness and their effect on reducing distress associated with the fatigue. While both methods might help, flow activities were identified with moderate positive effects compared to mindfulness, particularly in people who endured extended lockdown periods. As such, they recommended individuals distressed by lockdowns to practice flow activities.

In the study, researchers developed an online survey for assessing well-being, flow activities, and mindfulness. A total of 5,115 participants responded to the survey. The respondents were from Wuhan and other major cities hit by COVID-19. Overall, the responses indicated that the longer lockdowns were, the greater the impact on the wellbeing of affected individuals. However, the effects of flow activities and mindfulness were found to have a positive effect on their wellbeing. Both methods were correlated to improved wellbeing in certain measures. Though, flow activities had a higher beneficial impact on wellbeing stressed by quarantine fatigue, compared to mindfulness. While either method might be useful, flow activities were determined by researchers as more effective.

Flow activities are tasks that allow the mind to enter a state of engagement. In other words, these tasks maintain the attention and focus of a person. For example, drawing on a sketchpad engages the person to concentrate on creating their masterpiece. Whether or not the drawing is excellent, the activity itself successfully engaged the cognitive abilities of the person. But does watching TV for hours lead to the same engagement?

"My lab has actually been thinking a lot about whether and how activities like reading or watching TV and movies could induce flow," wrote Kate Sweeny, lead author of the study and professor of psychology, as quoted by Psychology Today, a US-based magazine.



Watching TV is a good way to pass the time but it lacks a component to be considered a flow activity. In most cases, watching TV does not challenge a person. For instance, the person is entertained by the events in a movie, though, they are likely to fail to track down the progress of watching TV as a task. When drawing something randomly, the person constantly tracks their progress to detect errors, which will inspire them to make corrections.

So, the engagement in reading a book or watching TV depends on the elements. The greater the gravity of these elements, the more chances of triggering some sort of challenge to the mind. Reading mystery books or watching movies involving analyses and investigations can challenge the mind to make theories or conclusions. As the plot thickens, they can challenge their speculations or even contest the conclusion. Sometimes, viewers do not agree with plot outcomes or twists because of illogical patterns.

Aside from those, the simple watching of a TV series or movies from another country can force mental engagement. Enabling subtitles and reading it while watching the scenes offers a challenge for the viewer. The engagement exists in watching and reading, and in listening to the words from an unfamiliar language at the same time. The greater the difference between the spoken language of the viewer and the language used in the media, the higher the challenge.