Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over yet, and as flu season begins and cooler temperatures force people to spend most of their time inside, it’s going to be more important than ever to stay COVID-safe.
“This is a respiratory-spread virus, and we’re heading into a season where we’re going to see lots of other respiratory viruses,” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention. “These all can be prevented by staying home when you’re not feeling well, wearing a mask any time you’re around others, keeping distance and good hand hygiene. If we can just stay focused on those core things as we move toward the winter respiratory season, we’ll all be a lot safer.”
Here are four tips you can use to overcome “COVID caution fatigue” and stay safe. Remember, the more everyone follows guidelines and slows the transmission of the virus, the sooner the pandemic—and the need for all these precautions—can come to an end.
1. Stay connected with friends and loved ones.
To protect your mental health during this time, try to resist monotony and isolation and continue to find creative ways to connect with others.
“As this wears on, a lot of people are feeling so fatigued and so overwhelmed that they’re drawing back and not pushing themselves to get out of their house to connect with people in different ways,” says UNC Health clinical psychologist Tiffany Hopkins, PhD. “We need to try to push ourselves to do the things that we know are going to be beneficial in the long run, because oftentimes that will change our emotions.”
Schedule regular calls with friends and family. If possible, make them video calls. Or develop a “social bubble” of a few close friends or family members to socialize with in person. When getting together, be sure to wear masks whenever physical distancing is not possible, and try to meet somewhere with lots of open space.
“If we can all positively encourage each other to keep this momentum going, we can break through some of this complacency and help inspire that community spirit that we started out with,” Dr. Hopkins says.
2. Get outside—ideally with others.
Go for a walk or jog with a friend or family member while staying 6 feet apart and wearing a mask. Or find an outdoor boot camp or yoga class, even if you have to layer up.
“Get outside and move your body, seeking support and camaraderie, since everybody is in this together,” Dr. Hopkins says.
This three-pronged approach—exercise plus social engagement plus being outdoors—can be very powerful to lift your mood and maintain your motivation to stay vigilant during COVID-19.
3. Stay in the present.
As the pandemic goes on and on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel hopeless.
“Since there’s no end in sight, we can often get stuck envisioning a future where it goes on forever,” Dr. Hopkins says.
When this happens, try to catch yourself and bring yourself back to the present. We have no way to know how long the pandemic will last, but there are hopeful signs on the horizon, such as a vaccine and more effective treatments. For now, it’s best to focus on what you can control: the present moment.
“If we can try and bring ourselves back to right now and not take on the weight of the future, it seems much more manageable to be able to take the actions that we can to protect ourselves,” Dr. Hopkins says.
4. Give yourself a break and take stock of your routine.
As you feel frustrated or disillusioned, remember these are unprecedented times. There is no playbook for how to handle this new normal, so it’s important to be gentle with yourself—and others.
“Try to identify what matters most in your life, and find creative, flexible ways to connect with those things,” Dr. Hopkins says.
One silver lining of the pandemic is that families don’t feel as rushed or overscheduled, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. You can use this time to reassess your family’s activities and what’s meaningful versus what’s primarily stressful. When the time comes, you’ll know which activities belong on your family’s calendar and which ones to leave behind.
“In my family, we didn’t have time to relax” before the pandemic, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “And now we do. That’s definitely been a silver lining.”