This is part of a series from the health coaches at Cambia’s Lifelong Well-being team who share how to move beyond wellness to well-being. It starts with empowering people toward life balance—focusing on health status and risk factors, personal circumstances in life and career, and their unique needs—through the lens of the following pillars: optimal health, resilience, physical wellness and emotional health.
As the months pass during the coronavirus pandemic you may be noticing you’re not disinfecting surfaces, washing your hands, or maintaining to strict physical distancing guidelines as you were when the outbreak first started. This unintentional phenomenon is known as “Caution Fatigue” and is characterized when people show low motivation or energy to comply with safety guidelines. As many parts of the country are slowly beginning to reopen and the opportunities for infection escalate, it is important to guard yourself against Caution Fatigue to keep yourself and others safe.
Understanding Vigilance and the Brain
Remember when you were 16 years old and first learning how to drive? Your mind was probably razor focused on checking your mirrors, monitoring your speed, keeping an eye out for pedestrians and other safety concerns while driving. Fast-forward to the present, and many of us are on autopilot when driving as we sing along to our favorite song on the radio, chat with a friend or think about our day. While the dangers associated with driving have not changed, your brain’s perception of them has. As you have driven over the years your brain has become exposed to the hazards of driving so often that they have lost their immediacy or level of threat in your mind. Often it is only with a brush with danger (an accident or near-accident) that jolts you back into being a more vigilant driver as the source of a threat becomes once again prominent in your brain. This is another example of Caution Fatigue, and by understanding it, you can keep on guard from letting safety practices and vigilance waver.
Mitigate Information Overload
In today’s world of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the brain can become so overloaded with information, that you may be feeling lost on what should or should not be done. To protect against this, dedicate up to 30 minutes per day for reading only relevant, credible information to come up with a balanced point of view about what to do. If you’re still unsure, err on the side of caution.
Transform New Safety Practices into Habits
The brain craves habits and routines, so work to build safety practices into your daily lifestyle. Setting up visual cues is often helpful, such as always putting your face mask on a table by the door to remind yourself to put it on before you leave, or placing a bottle of hand sanitizer on your car dashboard to encourage hand sanitation when traveling. Involving friends and family members to hold each other accountable will help in cementing these new healthy habits.
- Pro Tip: Build healthy habits by linking them to a pre-existing habit. For example, place a handwashing reminder next to your toothbrush to link a new healthy habit (consistent handwashing) to an already existing habit (brushing your teeth).
Shift Your Mindset
As time passes, it is tough to reproduce the initial fear and survival instincts that kicked in at the start of the virus outbreak. Those instincts made you hypervigilant in your safety practices. To make smarter and safer decisions continually, you need to actively perceive risk and reward so that safety precautions no longer seem annoying. Try asking yourself what the reward is for the choices you make relative to what you’re sacrificing. For example, the reward of your health and the health of those around you might outweigh the sacrifice of wearing a mask or consistently physical distancing. This is a personal decision that we all must make. By logically and thoroughly analyzing the risk-reward ratio of maintaining consistent safety practices many of the annoying aspects of maintaining our personal safety are put into perspective.
Experience shows that poor decisions are often made when feeling stressed, nervous, anxious or depressed. These poor decisions can often result in putting yourself and others in the path of unnecessary risk or harm. With stress levels on the rise during these uncertain times of political and social upheaval, it is important to maintain a consistent mental well-being practice and self-monitor our levels of stress. Spending 10 minutes a day going for a walk, exercising, doing a meditation or other mindfulness practice can go a long way in maintaining mental well-being.