What to do about COVID-19 uncertainty, anxiety and “caution fatigue”; Roman poet, Ovid’s advice
Welcome to the July edition of Tips and Topics.
In SAVVY, Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project: Happier at Home and Better than Before” gives tips on what to do about all the uncertainty we are experiencing with COVID-19.
In SKILLS, Jamie Ducharme, Staff Writer at Time Magazine, summarizes tips for fighting “caution fatigue” from Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
In SOUL, Gretchen Rubin gives one last piece of advice on how to handle the uncertainty and anxiety over COVID-19 and quotes Ovid: “Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.)”
The July 15 news podcast “Here & Now” noted how the coronavirus pandemic is continuing longer than many expected. The disruption, loss, social isolation and health risks remain part of our daily lives. Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project: Happier at Home and Better than Before” hosts a podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” She gave some advice on what to do about all this uncertainty.
This month’s SAVVY is based on the interview with Gretchen Rubin. I have selected and paraphrased and organized the interview in Tips and Topics style. But listen to the interview if you want to hear this in her own voice.
Identify your areas of uncertainty during COVID-19 with tips on how to accept uncertainty and manage anxiety
What are your current COVID-19 uncertainties?
- When will this pandemic be over?
- How much worse will it get?
- If only I could have a date when we will be back to normal, then I could tough it out.
- Can I make any plans in the next few months or even the next year?
- When will I stop working from home and get back to the “office”?
- Should I get a COVID test today, when it might be negative now, but then positive tomorrow?
- What about these vaccines – will they be safe and effective when they’ve been developed so much faster than usual?
- How do I balance my budget, work, home-schooling and social life?
What you can and cannot do
Since you can’t really do anything about the virus except wear a mask; spatially distance; and wash your hands, what can you do to just accept that reality and even lean into it?
- Look at what you are learning, what insights am I having, what am I gaining?
- What did I learn and gain from the experience of lock down?
- Some things may be going poorly but are there some good things? e.g., I’m cooking more; eating healthily; not commuting so have more time to do things I never got round to.
- Acknowledge the gains you made and insights you have had so you can hold onto the gains you have made.
- If I feel I have learned something useful out of this time, I will be comforted by that.
Look for alternatives and advantages of the shutdown of national and international travel
- Since many are working from home for a while, could you go somewhere else and work from there for a month or two?
- Because we can be anywhere that has reliable internet, some people who travel a lot for work (like me) can appreciate not having to travel and have more time to catch up on things e.g., sorting old boxes and memorabilia.
- You can be a tourist in your own home town and travel locally and see things you often don’t do because they are in your area already.
- Look for local treasures that are as much value as traveling to a different city or country e.g., Is there a museum, or a national park near you that you haven’t visited for a long time?
- You could even just take a different route on your walk. Learn more about where you are.
Be kind and compassionate with yourself. But also make use of the time you now have at home with no commute, eating out and gatherings
With more time at home there can be pressure to feel you have to learn a new language or clean out those drawers or complete that home project you started 2 years ago.
- Yes, be kind to yourself and show yourself compassion.
- We have never been through this.
- But everything does have consequences. Sometimes people feel “nothing counts” with not working as usual etc.
- But things do count and you don’t want to come out of this pandemic feeling worse and that you haven’t accomplished anything because “nothing counts”.
The Balance between being kind to yourself and making use of your time
Some feel “well if I’m not going to do it now when I have the time, when will I do it?”
- This is the time to clean the closet, learn a language, go deep into meditation.
- You can feel better if you feel you do make good use of the time e.g., organized my basement, learnt a new language, updated my resume or learned to use some new software.
- Then we feel better going forward because we did accomplish something. We made good use of the time as there is so much we don’t have control over. That is comforting.
Of course you may have so much anxiety going on and chaos with homeschooling; learning to work from home, even actual sickness from COVID that “cutting yourself some slack” may be the way to have to go. It depends on each person’s circumstances.
Schedule time to worry
Constant rumination is draining, so scheduling a time to worry can help. But don’t schedule it for just before you go to bed!
- You could schedule “worry time” for 11 AM or 3 PM Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you are worrying outside that time, you aren’t ignoring it or pushing it down. You are just shifting it to the scheduled time when you can consider your concerns properly when the time is right.
- This frees up your time and energy from constant ruminating.
- When you do sit down to address your worries, you can write down your concerns; and examine what you are actually worried about.
- Look at the best evidence, make a decision and do that until the next check-in period so you don’t have to worry and second-guess yourself all the time.
- When you address the concerns in a more systematic way, they can seem more manageable.
If you wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, write it down then and get it off your mind and deal with it later.
As COVID-19 cases flare up and lock-downs drag on in many U.S. states, people’s resolve to continue social/spatial distancing is flagging, especially as summer entices us to get out and socialize.
Jamie Ducharme is a Staff Writer at Time Magazine. She is an American journalist based in New York, New York and covers a wide range of health topics — from medical research and public health to relationships and psychology. She wrote recently about COVID-19 “Caution Fatigue” and In the July 6-13, 2020 edition of TIME magazine. You can read her article on yahoo! news.
Jamie summarized tips for fighting “caution fatigue” from Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who coined “caution fatigue” for when people tire of taking precautions. It was based on her 15 years of research into depression, anxiety and decision-making.
Again, I have organized the content of Jamie’s article in Tips and Topics style. This is Jamie Ducharme and Jacqueline Gollan’s content and wisdom.
Take care of your physical and mental health
- Get enough sleep.
- Follow a balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t drink too much.
- Stay socially connected.
- Find ways to relieve stress.
“If people can address the reasons for the caution fatigue, the caution fatigue itself will improve,” Gollan says.
improve your “emotional fitness”
- Express gratitude, either to others or yourself.
- Set goals for how you want to feel or act.
- Take time just to decompress and laugh.
Reframe risks and 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’re 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. (I added italics)
- People tend to overvalue what’s already happened. They assume that if they haven’t gotten sick yet, they won’t get sick in the future.
- Remember that as your safety behaviors decline, your risks increase. This can prevent you from falling into “thinking traps” like convincing yourself that another trip to the grocery store is absolutely necessary, when it’s really 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 (even if just on Zoom, Face Time or Skype).
- Create a new normal, to the extent possible. This can be stabilizing, Gollan says.
- Focus on small pieces of your new routine to help grapple with uncertainty.
- Instead of thinking about how long quarantine may stretch on, 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
- Remember that social-distancing is really about the common good. In keeping yourself safe, you’re 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, Gollan says. “Try small chunks of it,” she 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, she says.
Gretchen Rubin gave one last piece of advice on how to handle the uncertainty and anxiety over COVID-19.
“If you want to be happy, the key to happiness is strong relationships – pay attention to your relationships; stay connected with other people; go out to the street and smile at others over your mask; look for ways to feel connected to other people; do good in the world to feel connected to your larger community. You can’t control the virus but you could do for example, virtual volunteering or virtual babysitting for someone who can’t get any work done because of little kids.”
- When you do good, you feel good.
- That makes us feel closer to the people in our lives and closer to our community.
- That is something that is in our control and will boost our spirits in a tough time.
In high school, I studied Latin for two years. That study was mostly wasted as I can barely remember anything. There aren’t many people around I can practice Latin conversation with.
But my Latin study does allow me to recognize Latin words. Gretchen ended with a quote from the Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso known as Ovid in the English-speaking world. He was born on March 20, 43 BC and died AD 17 or 18 at the age of 60-61.
“Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.)” ― Ovid
One day all this COVID-19 pain will be useful to us. In whatever way, we’ll get through it. “This too shall pass”