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Self-Care Tip: Additional Tips for Fighting Caution Fatigue


As lockdowns drag on and on in many U.S. states, there are worrying signs that people’s resolve to continue social distancing is flagging.

Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has coined a name for this phenomenon based on her 15 years of research into depression, anxiety, and decision-making: “caution fatigue.”

Gollan likens social-distancing motivation to a battery. When lockdowns were first announced, many people were charged with energy and desire to flatten the curve. Now, many weeks in, the prolonged cocktail of stress, anxiety, isolation, and disrupted routines has left many people feeling drained. As motivation dips, people are growing more laxed about social-distancing guidelines — and potentially putting themselves and others in harm’s way.

Reframe Risks & Benefits

As important as they are, goals like flattening the curve and improving public health can be hard to stay fired up about since they are somewhat abstract, Gollan acknowledges. So, it can be useful to think about how your behavior directly affects your chances of getting sick, and thus your chances of spreading the virus to people around you.

People tend to overvalue what has already happened, assuming if they have not gotten sick yet, they won’t in the future. “But if your behavior changes and you have a gradual decline in your safety behaviors, then the risk may increase over time,” says Gollan. Remembering that reality can prevent you from falling into “thinking traps” like convincing yourself another trip to the grocery store is necessary when it is just out of boredom, Gollan says.

Rebuild Your Routine

Coronavirus has probably shattered your regular daily routine — but you can still make time for things you valued before the pandemic, like exercise and socializing. Creating a new normal, to the extent possible, can be stabilizing, Gollan says.

Focusing on small pieces of your new routine can also be a helpful way to grapple with uncertainty. If it is hard for you to think about how long quarantine may stretch on, instead focus on the immediate future. “What are you going to do this morning?” Gollan says. “Are there things you’re not doing that you should?”

Make Altruism a Habit

It may help to remember that social distancing is really about the common good. In keeping yourself safe, you are also improving public health, ensuring that hospitals can meet demand and quite possibly saving lives. “There’s something powerful about hope, compassion, caring for others, altruism,” Gollan says. “Those values can help people battle caution fatigue.”

Just like anything, selfless behavior gets easier the more you do it. “Try small chunks of it,” Gollan suggests. “What can you do in the next hour, or today, that’s going to be a selfless act to others?” Donating to charity or checking in on a loved one are easy places to start.

Switch Up Your Media Diet

Just as you may learn to tune out the sounds outside your window, “we get desensitized to the warnings [about coronavirus],” Gollan says. “That’s the brain adjusting normally to stimulation.” Even something as simple as checking a credible news source you don’t usually follow or catching up on headlines from another part of the country, could help your brain reset.

Source: Adapted from:

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