Angry, frustrated, exhausted? It may be caution fatigue

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I was talking with a friend recently about my frustrations with how so many people I know personally are done with quarantine, wearing masks, social distancing and COVID in general.

At a time when cases of infections are rising in many states in the US and abroad, the reasons to be cautious, conscious and safe are more important than ever. Despite evidence to the contrary, why then are so many people no longer doing the simple basic things that will help curb COVID-19 sooner?

My friend said, “… It’s probably caution fatigue”. I had never heard of this, so after a little reading this is what I found. According to Elyse Hauser, author of, “What is caution fatigue and how can you combat it” on Lifesaver.com, the term “caution fatigue” was coined by Jacqueline Gollan, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor who states, “Caution fatigue describes the erosion of our motivation to adopt changes that insure our safety, health, etc.”

As I read more about this, a bigger question came to my mind. Is caution fatigue bigger than COVID-19?

The short answer is, yes!

Caution fatigue is simply another term for our natural resistance to change. Change is hard, uncertain and forces us out of what we know and what we are comfortable with. **That can be scary, especially during this pandemic when so much of change what is happening *to us* rather than by us. **Our sense of control is under attack so it’s easy to revert to the little representations of normalcy, familiarity and freedom, like not wearing mask or hugging a loved one.

“I have always resisted change of any kind when the reasons are not important enough.”

As I think about my personal situation, I have always resisted change of any kind when the reasons are not important enough. I was overweight, unhealthy and dismissed. I needed health related changes for years. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with diabetes that I got scared and my life was in question.

I have put off house repairs until I had no choice to fix it. The faucet leak wasn’t that bad… More often than not, when it got bad enough to fix, it was always more expensive as a result. Then I would beat myself up wishing I had taken it seriously sooner, only to, in many cases, repeat the same vicious cycle in the future.

I have also had many situations when I have “fallen off the wagon” or reverted back to my old ways when life got too stressful or I wanted to experience what I used to.

Only when the reasons for me to change were big enough, important enough and the consequences too great, did I do what I needed to in order to make those new habits stick. I battle some of these changes to this day. While many are now part of me, others are still a work in progress.

My point is that while some people have adopted changes needed around COVID easily, others have not, and it boils down to two reasons:

  1. Those that are managing change better and adapting to the normal right now are those with a bigger reasons to do so.
  2. Those that are not, don’t have big enough reasons that are personally important, period.

I am convinced that my strong views about COVID safety and compliance with the current rules of health stem from my being diabetic. Our community is at a much greater risk of contracting the virus than those that are not diabetic. And I have no interest in putting myself at risk of getting sick or worse, than I already am, by being simply uncomfortable.

So how do I cope? What I am doing to manage caution fatigue? I don’t do anything much different than what I do daily to manage diabetes.

Know your reasons why you do what you do.

I know my motivating reasons why I make the decisions I do. I care deeply about myself, my family, the people of my community and my goals. These are all things that are bigger than me, more important than me and certainly greater than any temporary inconvenience that may be impacted. What are the things in your life that are bigger than you? What motivates you to do what you do even when you don’t want to? Is it your family, your car, your health? Get in touch with those things and those should be the drivers of the choices you make.

Be grateful.

Gratitude is an amazing thing. I have a life coach I work with and part of my prep work for every call is to account for everything I am grateful for. It’s amazing how much good we have in our lives even when our circumstances are brutally tough. Often, I find myself actually editing my list of what to write down rather than struggling to complete my list. I was watching a story on the news this past weekend that shed light on the fact that over 2 million Americans live without running water in their homes. In 2020, are you serious? When was the last time you were grateful for running water? I am.

Have faith and adapt.

Whether you’re religious or not, having faith is fairly universal. Our outlook and belief shapes how we react and grow. I struggle with this one at times, especially lately when those I depend on to talk through my challenges with are distanced by the pandemic. But that challenge has forced me to be creative about what I can do instead. I couldn’t remember the last time I played an old school dice game and my wife and I coordinated a way to play with our friends and family over video call. It was a great time, and I am convinced that my faith and outlook sparked that creative solution.

Take things one day at a time.

Being overwhelmed is a real thing and it’s not limited to just tough times. When I start spiraling, I have to remove myself from the situation and remember right then, in that moment, all is okay. I am alive. I have everything I need. I will be okay even if its just for that day. Only then can you start to sort everything out. Rash emotional decisions from a place of panic and survival instinct rarely turn out well. When you take a moment to recognize that the threat is not immediate, you then can begin to work to solve the challenge step by step.

Talk to someone.

Sometimes we need help outside of our own circle and that’s okay. I have a coach that I work with because his perspective, insight and counsel is critical and objective. He knows me well enough to understand my challenges and successes, but not so well that he can’t be brutally honest without concern.

While caution fatigue is a newer term, change itself is not a new experience, and neither are the deeper issues that make change difficult. Coming to terms with how you’re feeling, why you feel that way and connecting with the bigger reasons in your life to grow will make you better. The tips I have shared here help me everyday, and they will help you too.

Be safe and healthy and remember, we are all in this together.

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