Caution Fatigue: How to Identify and Manage it

Russ Krengel Wellness

There’s a term for how you’re feeling these days, that cloudy fog that comes from working from home, staying in, wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others and watching the news, just trying to keep up with changes in your community, updates about school closings or openings, trying to keep it all together.  Most of us feel tired, some feel alone, some are worried.

For families facing the difficult challenge of a serious illness, and the prospect of hospice care, these times can bring darkness and a sense of overwhelming.

You are not alone. Many, many people are experiencing this. According to a recent Time Magazine piece titled “Are You Experiencing COVID-19 ‘Caution Fatigue?’ Here’s What It Is, and How to Fight It”, Dr.Jacqueline Gollan, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has coined a name for this phenomenon based on her 15 years of research into depression, anxiety and decision-making. The term she and her team have settled on is “caution fatigue.”

It is real and it is powerful. But you can take specific and simple steps to deal with it, head on.

In a recent article from Northwestern University, Dr. Gollan says, “Our lives are defined by our habits and routines, and thus, are hard to change. They connect us to a sense of normalcy and it is important to maintain a semblance of your previous schedule so as to not lose sight of your health goals. The things we miss, like playing and exercising, can still be rewarding but need to be redefined to meet pandemic safety guidelines.”

Northwestern is conducting studies on the impact of caution fatigue and overall well-being, including the mental, emotional and physical effects of operating on high alert for long periods of time. Dr. Gollem suggests efforts to maintain a schedule, finding comfort and calm where you can and avoiding activities that may bring on the negative effects of these times we live in.

Following are our suggestions for families facing a situation that might induce caution fatigue.

Get Plenty of Rest

Okay, you’ve heard this one. But you may not realize that a lack of sleep has an actual and measurable impact on your ability to manage stress and decision-making. A good night’s sleep can make all the difference and not just for you. If that were the whole pay off, you might just ignore this tip. But others, the people around who are sick, stressed or working to take care of sick and stressed family members will be much better served by your input and presence if you’ve actually slept. Not just napped – though that is better than nothing. But actual, restful sleep. It does a body and your brain a lot of good.

Reduce Interaction with Negativity

Seems obvious but taking action to do this is a bigger step than you might think. Toxic people, difficult relationships, even just watching the news – what are the little things you can opt out of to reclaim that space in your mind? Set a time limit on news intake, find more passive ways to communicate as needed, remove what makes your shoulders tight and your mood dark. Again, sounds simple but often our daily lives are so tangled up with little negatives that we do not even realize the overall impact of the collective .

Add Positive Actions & Input

Do you know that observing an act of kindness, even one you are not participating in, can have the same effect on your body, both emotionally and physically, as actually being a part of the kind act yourself? Consider the implications of this fact and what you choose to spend your energy doing or consuming. What do you watch on TV or read on social media or listen to in an audio book or a podcast? Dies it lift your spirit? Seek activities that bring smiles and calm. The larger, multiplier effect of not just removing negatives but adding positives will go so very far to improve your general sense of well-being. Google “positivity podcasts” or look up the “9 Days of Kindness” Facebook Group for a glimpse into what is out there.

Pause Before Making Big Decisions

 We often do this just naturally in the course of a day or week, when big decisions are on the table. We take a healthy pause but it’s not always a conscious act. Split-second decisions while dealing with caution fatigue are a bad idea. Take 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or an hour and sit quietly. Breathe deeply, maybe listen to a guided meditation or some music that calms your spirit and then make the conscious choice to look at your options before making a decision. If a loved one is ill, big decisions are not something you want to look back on and wonder if you had given it the kind of consideration that was deserved. Take a pause, not just for yourself, but out of love for the others depending on you to make that big decision.