Visitor restrictions are in place due to COVID-19 (coronavirus). Review the latest information about the virus and how you can help by donating funds.

television remote control and a medical mask, with news channel open in background
television remote control and a medical mask, with news channel open in background
Emotional Health

Do You Have COVID-19 Caution Fatigue?

4 Tips to Protect Yourself and Others

When the pandemic began and lockdowns were ordered, many people were energized to do their part and help reduce the spread of COVID-19. But months of isolation and anxiety drained people of their motivation, causing many to become less strict about the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as masking and physical distancing.

Northwestern Medicine Psychologist Jacqueline K. Gollan, PhD, calls this “caution fatigue.”

Here are Dr. Gollan’s tips for fighting it.

Cover the Basics

Getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising regularly can positively affect your mood. Other mood-boosters:

  • Consume less alcohol
  • Find ways to reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises
  • If your routine is off, build a new one

Dr. Gollan suggests focusing on the immediate future so that uncertainty about the longer-term outlook doesn’t make you feel hopeless.

Finally, incorporate goals of enjoyment and mastery (GEMS) into your routine. These are things you can work toward that you enjoy doing in the moment and that will also offer some value or sense of accomplishment to you in the future.

Work on Your Emotional Fitness

Keep a journal to list things you are grateful for or to track your mood.

Stay connected with loved ones via a regularly scheduled video chat.

Strengthen your integrity and seek humor. “Laughter is good for all of us,” adds Dr. Gollan.

If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, seek help from a professional. “A lot of people with strong minds are suffering during this time, and talking with a professional can be helpful,” she says.

Put Risks Into Perspective

“It’s hard to stay committed to goals like improving public health by staying home, because they’re so abstract and can often seem to have no effect on you personally,” says Dr. Gollan. “Reframe this thought to acknowledge how your behavior could increase the chance of you or your loved ones getting sick.”

Dr. Gollan explains that it’s important to work against current-moment biases during the pandemic. Avoid the temptation to do something that brings you pleasure in the moment without acknowledging the risk it may bring in the future. In the case of the pandemic, this could mean going to a large group gathering without thinking about how this may affect the spread of COVID-19 down the road.

“It’s hard to assess peril and risk, especially when the risk is invisible, like coronavirus,” she says. “You have to find a balance, which may mean less pleasure in the current moment, but more risk mitigation in the future.”

Dr. Gollan says you can avoid caution fatigue by working against your confirmatory bias — the practice of surrounding yourself with people who agree with you and ignoring views that threaten yours. In the case of the pandemic, your confirmatory bias could mean ignoring the advice of public health experts in favor of something that resonates with you more or that makes you feel better. To avoid this, Dr. Gollan suggests an exercise of generating four additional explanations for a situation to train your mind to see things from multiple perspectives.

Finally, Dr. Gollan warns against falling into “thinking traps,” such as assuming since you haven’t been sick yet that you won’t get sick in the future, or convincing yourself that an outing is necessary when your motivation behind it may just be boredom.

Ditch Desensitizing Media

When you’re constantly inundated with news stories about coronavirus, “you get desensitized to the warnings,” adds Dr. Gollan. “That’s the brain adjusting to stimulation.”

Take breaks from your steady stream of news articles, and make sure you’re following credible sources — Dr. Gollan suggests two to three medical professionals — to avoid overly dramatic news stories that can take a toll on your mental health.

“Caution fatigue can put you and others in harm’s way,” says Dr. Gollan. “It’s vital that we continue to follow masking, physical distancing and personal hygiene protocols to prevent us from losing the progress we’ve made so far.”

More Resources

Jacqueline K. Gollan, PhD
Jacqueline K. Gollan, PhD
Nearest Location:
Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Psychology
Accepts New Patients
View Profile