The national rollout of vaccines to help immunize individuals against COVID-19 has sparked hope across America and the world. However, medical experts urge people to continue taking recommended safety precautions, i.e., social distancing and avoiding crowds, wearing masks when out in public, and washing your hands frequently. In nearing the end of the second year of this outbreak, Americans are experiencing caution fatigue and are eager to return to pre-pandemic life. But, as COVID-19 case numbers in the United States continue to rise, we all need to do our part to keep each other safe until more of us are immunized.
Understanding caution fatigue
When the outbreak first began, people were energized and eager to work hard and flatten the curve. Still, the combination of prolonged isolation, strict health and safety protocols, and increased stress levels have left us all feeling tired, less motivated, and less careful. This is known as "caution fatigue." Think of it like the life of a battery: starting off strong and losing energy over time.
Caution fatigue is dangerous
Simply put: The less careful we are, the harder it is to stop the virus from spreading. Experts acknowledge that it's hard to maintain momentum when you haven't experienced the virus personally. It may even be easy to assume that if you haven't gotten sick yet, you won't in the future. However, any slip in your safety precautions may increase your overall risk of getting or spreading the disease.
A vaccination may not keep you from passing it on
Researchers don’t yet know if the virus can still spread to others from someone who is fully vaccinated. That’s why medical experts are urging people to continue taking recommended safety precautions—including social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks when out in public, and washing your hands frequently—even after they are immunized. Remember, you’re not just doing it for yourself, but also for everyone around you.
In this together
The medical community urges everyone to stand strong against the virus while we wait for everyone to be immunized. Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University said in a recent interview with NPR that he knows taking precautions can be taxing, but he urges us all to hang on and keep it up. "It's not like you'll need to wear a mask for the rest of your life," he says. "You need to wear your mask until we have the data, and we're trying to get the answers as fast as we can."
Ways to cope with caution fatigue
Here are some tips to help you keep up with safety precautions and avoid feeling overwhelmed:
- Reframe risks & benefits: Think about how your behavior affects your personal risk of getting—or making others—sick. For example, if you stop wearing a mask in public, your personal risk of contracting or transmitting the virus may increase. Use this thinking to help you avoid unnecessary risks, like convincing yourself that you need to go to the grocery store again because you're feeling bored and restless.
- Skip the information overload: Limit your daily news intake and take frequent breaks from technology and social media throughout the day.
- Make time for your mental health: Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help decrease stress and anxiety feelings. Virtual talk therapy is also a convenient way to get support when coping with difficult emotions.
- Move a little every day: Regular physical activity, like walking, running, or stretching, can boost your mood, improve your sleep, and strengthen your immune system.