Caution Fatigue & the COVID-19 Vaccine

Why you still need to be vigilant, regardless of the new vaccines.

01/26/2021

The national rollout of two promising vaccines to help immunize individuals against COVID-19 has sparked hope across America and the world. However, medical experts are urging 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 the tenth month 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.

What is caution fatigue?

The term "caution fatigue" was coined by Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Gollan compares social distancing motivation to the life of a battery, starting off strong and losing energy over time. 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.

Why is it dangerous?

To put it simply: The less careful we are, the harder it is to stop the virus from spreading. Gollan acknowledges that it's hard to maintain momentum when you haven't experienced the virus personally, and it's easy to assume that if you haven't gotten sick yet, you won't in the future. "But if your behavior changes and you have a gradual decline in your safety behaviors, then the risk may increase over time," Gollan says.

Can I spread the virus to others even if I'm fully vaccinated?

There is no definitive answer to this question yet, so for now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging people to assume the answer is yes and continue taking necessary precautions. "It's important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop this pandemic as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions."

How can I cope with caution fatigue while waiting for more people to get vaccinated?

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."

In the meantime, the following tips may help you feel less overwhelmed:

· Reframe risks & benefits: Gollan says to think about how your personal behavior affects your personal risk of getting sick. For example, if you stop wearing a mask in public, your personal risk of contracting or transmitting the virus may increase. Remembering the reality of the situation can help you avoid "thinking traps"—like convincing yourself that you need to go to the grocery store again because you're feeling bored and restless.

· Avoid information overload: Limit your daily news intake and take frequent breaks from technology and social media throughout the day.

· Prioritize 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: You've heard it before, but it bears repeating—regular physical activity (walking, running, stretching, etc.) can boost your mood, improve your sleep, and strengthen your immune system.

Looking for more COVID-19 resources? Visit our Healthy at Home Coronavirus Resource Hub.

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