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Pandemic Fatigue: The “New Normal” and How to Save Your Sanity

Time can be a funny thing.

A moment can be both long and short, especially when it comes to Pandemic Fatigue. The old saying goes, “How long a minute is depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re on.” What side of the door does Pandemic Fatigue have you on?

It has been a full year and counting since COVID-19 completely disrupted our lives. In the grand scheme of things, one year is but a microscopic drop of a drop in the bucket of time. But for many of us, like the bathroom analogy, the year can seem at the same time like it’s been both the longest and shortest time of our lives.

Last year we all were told ‘wear your mask; social distance; stay home; don’t touch your face.’ Now, all we hear is ‘pandemic fatigue; new normal; get the vaccine.’ These are all we are still talking about one year later.

Pandemic Fatigue - The "New Normal" and How to Save Your Sanity - Maison Vie New Orleans Therapy and Counseling
COVID-19 has seemingly put the world, and many of our lives, on hold, giving greater effect to Pandemic Fatigue.

How much more of this unprecedented time can we take?

Most people hoped that the pandemic would be all over with and we would return to normal by now. Our experiences since then show that the “normal” we all once knew may no longer be feasible.

Everything pandemic-related seems to be getting more intense and life more difficult. Do masks really work or not? Why should we get the vaccine or not? The guidelines we have been given have changed many times since last year.

How do we know what to do?

Knowing what to do is never easy when you begin second-guessing yourself, reviewing the information you receive, or talking with others. However, the decisions we make are ultimately our own both good and bad. when it comes to choices we may end up regretting, there are three mental blind spots that result in those bad decisions. Cognitive neurologists call these blind spots cognitive biases.

    1. Anchoring bias occurs when we form an opinion and then behave based on the first preferred bit of information we learned. For example, if I hear someone I know say “I cannot breathe with this mask on” and I also do not like to wear one, I then hold the belief of no mask as being the right one.
    2. Normalcy bias occurs when our gut reaction is to believe life will stay the same now and in our future, which is what we call “normal.” For example, if I do not like change and then get told to wear a mask and to social distance, I believe I will not be affected. This causes me to think “I do not need to wear a mask” or “I will not get sick” instead of adjusting to this new normal and working within CDC guidelines.
    3. Emotional contagion occurs when we adopt the same viewpoint of whichever authority figure we happen to respect. Respect is a subjective experience, which results in making emotional decisions as opposed to an intellectual or scientific one, as suggested in the case of the pandemic. For example, when I hear the political representative I voted for say “masks do not work,” I decide they must know what is best because I voted for them.

From these, we then make decisions that do not factually support our community’s recovery and then blame someone else when all of our cognitive biases in action do not go as anticipated.

Pandemic Fatigue can make you feel like the world is passing you by as you wait for things to get back to “normal.”

Is there a way for us to make better decisions, especially since we are all really feeling pandemic fatigue?

Absolutely. I would caution that although it’s quite simple, it’s not easy because it requires challenging what we have come to believe as right, true, and best for everyone. Here’s how you can get started:

    1. Educate yourself. What are the current facts and data? For example, as of mid-February, Louisiana’s vaccination rate was up 9% per week and the reported number of coronavirus cases had dropped 39%. We are recovering despite the negative impacts of the holidays, family gatherings, and semester breaks. It is just regretful that our community’s learning curve has resulted in waves of so many severe cases and unwanted deaths.
    2. Re-evaluate your biases. How might your beliefs, opinions, and reactions impact those you are around? For example, your health is “well enough” whereas you don’t really worry about contracting COVID-19. You also pride yourself on caring for others. But does your belief about your own health status also extend to the health status of everyone you interact with? What if you are an asymptomatic carrier of this virus or any other illness? Do you really show love for everyone you might interact with on a daily basis?
    3. Adjust and prepare for change. What is your typical reaction to an unexpected or unwanted event? How does your resistance affect those around you? Change is normal; it happens despite our belief that we do not want things to be different. The original Latin meaning of “normal” is actually “perfect.” When we say, “I just want to go back to normal” we are subconsciously implying we want to “get back to perfect.” Whose life was or will be ever perfect? It is important that we speak accurately. For example, “I want to go on a cruise again” or “I just want to hug my friends when I see them.” Children have even been saying that they want to return to school!
    4. Be kind and accept yourself. Please refrain from judging yourself as a poor decision-maker. Instead, reward yourself for having the courage to challenge long-held beliefs and taking the next step toward getting our lives on the recovery track. It is a mental challenge we all can do.

What suggestions do you have for those of us who know someone who needs to do this, but just is stuck in that mental blind spot?

In order to suggest to someone that they may want to reconsider their beliefs and behaviors, we must know how to respectfully talk with people who disagree with us. [How To Respectfully Confront People In Your Life Who Break COVID Rules]. It is helpful to be calm when we approach them. The best approach is to:

    1. Be specific and polite. No judgment; just concern.
    2. Be considerate about their well-being and their perspective.
    3. Be empathetic and join in about your experiences with pandemic fatigue.
    4. Be honest about your differences of opinion when encouraging them to challenge their cognitive biases.

It’s also helpful to do this with someone we enjoy “verbal sparring” with on a friendly level. Additionally, we can also seek out professional assistance from a mental health therapist or a life coach. Even your family physician can be a great place to begin with that first step of getting the facts straight.

Want to know more about overcoming Pandemic fatigue?

Watch this video of Susan Harrington, counselor and founder of Maison Vie New Orleans, discussing what you can do to live happier and healthier. You can also contact us to see how we can help guide you through personal counseling sessions.

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