India just hit the one million mark in terms of its COVID-19 count. That’s a scary number, points at the grim situation where we have arrived, and clearly warns us of severe repercussions that being careless with your hygiene might bring. And yet there are so many of us who can hardly wait to go out. In fact, some have already been hit by a sudden urge to meet their friends, others have been bitten by the wanderlust bug and want (they’d say “need”) a vacation. The recent tourist influx in Himachal Pradesh and the consequent jam illustrates the same.
For a country that stands at #3 for its COVID-19 tally, most of us should be at home and yet the exact opposite seems to be happening. So what is happening here? Why are we getting way laxer with social distancing than we were when the country hardly had a caseload of a few thousand?
Well, what’s happening might be a curious case of caution fatigue, the tendency to get less careful even in really high stake situations when exposed to it for a long time. Now, how does that work, you ask? Scroll through for this is just what you need to read right now.
It has been more than half a year since the coronavirus pandemic took over our lives. Multiple scares, alarming studies, and a daily increasing case count later, we are all beginning to get used to the idea. We are also really done with being cooped up, of practicing caution, of all the coronavirus scares. It is as if we have all reached a state of collective fatigue that is making some of us throw caution to the wind. That's why some of us are behaving and living the way we used to before the pandemic.
Thus, you might observe that while you must have been extremely vigilant at the onset of the pandemic that might not be the case anymore. For instance, chances are that you are not sanitising your hands as much as you were back in February or March. Or you might perhaps be back to touching your face, something that we have been cautioned against all this while. Well, caution fatigue is the only explanation for all of this.
Coined by psychiatry and behavioural sciences professor, Jacqueline Gollan, the term refers to the effects that long term exposure to a stressful situation might have on the human psyche. It refers to a low motivation to adhere to the precautions and social distancing rules that we must be diligently following right now.
“Whether it’s wearing masks or standing six feet away from people, caution fatigue is low motivation or energy to comply with safety guidelines. You could consider caution fatigue to be similar to a AA battery. Initially, you may have been energized and positively focused on following pandemic-safety behavior. But as the virus has continued on, you may start to focus on the negative and feel physically or mentally depleted,” he explained in an interview with Northwestern Now.
Reluctance to wear a mask, lack of caution when it comes to watching or sanitizing your hands and touching surfaces, a craving for the outdoors and restarting your social life, all of these are determiners of caution fatigue. It is happening to us because the effects of months of lockdown, stress, and fear are beginning to wear us out. And we are tired of all that’s happening around so much so that we don't even want to practice caution anymore.
The continued exposure to distressing news and information is not helping either. It is like continuously watching a horror film, it is still scary, it still involves ghosts but you are too used to it now. You don’t care to flinch anymore.
In the current situation, fear and sadness happen to be common feelings that are effectively hampering our motivation, concentration, and energy. In such kind of sustained stress situations, taking precautions for oneself or others tends to become a daunting task and is often ignored to cope with the situation.
Gollan explains, “The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified our natural fears and we detect that things are uncertain. When we feel unsure, our predictions of the future are flawed. We underestimate the threat, ignore situational hazards and we refuse to change our routines and goals. In a good decision, we seek to update and learn from current sources to optimise our rewards and minimize our losses. But uncertainty or fear push against our efforts to make good decisions. It is crucial that we recognise the threat of virus exposure accurately and adapt our lives to meet evolving safety standards.”
Now that we have understood caution fatigue, it is important that we face it, address it, and come out of its vicious cycle. Fortunately, in this case, we are perfectly capable of helping ourselves. Think you are suffering from caution fatigue? Here's what you should be doing:
Workout: Working out happens to be the best coping mechanism in case of caution fatigue. From yoga to a simple walk, everything helps. Excercise releases endorphins, which elevate our mood and help us think more clearly.
Practicing Gratefulness And Meditation: Both these practices tend to pull you back in the present moment and make you more mindful of the situation at hand.
Talk About It: Just saying it out loud helps you with a better grasp of the present scenario. Talk about the fatigue but also talk about the stress, anxiety, and the fear that you must be feeling currently. It's only by accepting our feelings that we learn to process them better and cope well.
Set Up A New Routine: Changing your routine is crucial here. Try on a routine especially tailored for the pandemic times. It will help you as a reminder of how these are unprecedented times and need to be navigated differently.
Lastly, it is important to understand that we are in this together and there are so many like us who must be struggling with something similar at the moment. Reach out to them, talk, and help them out of this caution fatigue that might be putting all of us at a huge COVID-19 risk.