The US is now seven weeks into the coronavirus pandemic. While the physical threat of the virus remains unmatched, the shock that most of us felt from all the sudden changes has mostly worn off.
As a result, it might be tempting to try and resume normal life, but Psychological science researchers at Princeton University and the University of Toronto warn that just because the newness has subsided doesn’t mean you can return to your regularly scheduled activities.
“Strategies for reducing transmission have included repeated hand washing, physical distancing, and self-isolation. These preventive strategies are immediately available, highly affordable, and distinctly effective. However, a major challenge is the need to maintain adherence,” the authors wrote.
1. Overlooking everyday hazards
While it’s important that we continue to practice habits that will mitigate of risk of exposure to the virus, we must keep other health measures in mind, too.
According to the study, over-focusing on one potential hazard could cause people to neglect the other everyday practices that maintain their health. Those staying at home should remember to practice good sleeping habits, exercise regularly, and keep in mind healthy eating. Human companionship is also an important aspect of staying mentally healthy throughout this time period.
People staying at home can avoid these hazards by frequently video chatting with loved ones, exercising at home, and sticking to a normal routine as much as possible.
2. Giving into normalization
Fear of the unknown is a common driver for people to take action, which is why it was easier to convince people to take protective measures seriously during the early days of COVID-19 in the U.S.
Living with the virus, and the social distancing measures that it prompted, can easily normalize the situation and make people more relaxed about measures like washing their hands and only going out for essential items.
According to the study, to avoid giving into normalization, you should act as if you are just learning about the virus.
“Repeated creative reminders linked to the evolving situation are important to avoid complacency,” the study read.
3. Believing these precautions aren’t working
The numbers are not slowing down at the rate that we all want them to, which may lead some people to believe that all the staying home, hand washing, and face covering is for nothing.
There is a science-backed reason why you might see people being more lax about taking preventative measures. According to the study, when you don’t receive any proof that something is working, it makes you less likely to continue doing it.
“COVID-19 is unsettling because of the long incubation period,” study authors wrote, “including a protracted wait between implementing an intervention and finding out results.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it can take up to 14 days for a person infected with coronavirus to show symptoms.
For people who are stuck at home taking all of the necessary precautions, seeing the infection rate in the country continue to rise might make it feel like the handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing precautions aren’t working. But these measures are necessary to control the spread of the virus.
“Authorities should urge caution against acting on daily epidemic reports because random volatility might be mistaken for a real trend,” the study reads.
If we open up the country too early, we could be in for an even worse outbreak than we have already seen.
4. Forgetting about your emotional health
Social distancing, while protecting your physical health, can be extremely hard on your mental health.
For most of us, being around people and being able to go to certain places brings us great joy. Researchers urge people to keep in mind your mental and emotional health.
Try to find things that bring you joy while social distancing, like cooking or creating in some form. Focusing on taking care of your mental health can help make practicing social distancing easier, and even fun or relaxing.
5. Giving into quarantine fatigue and going back to normal
Even the most introverted of introverts have to be going a little stir crazy these days. As events from graduations to summer concerts get canceled, most of us want things to return to normal.
“Human behavior is driven by a strong aversion to losses and a desire to maintain the status quo, which is an impulse that favors recouping losses rather than seizing options that lead to superior outcomes,” the study authors write.
That desire for the “status quo” can drive people to do dangerous things, like go where they are not supposed to and say “forget you” to social distancing measures.
Researchers suggest that lawmakers and public health officials emphasize the future gains (less spread of the virus and less loss of life) to help people understand the benefits of social distancing.
6. Acting on social norms
While it might be tempting to greet friends you run into with a hug or kiss on the check, it’s important that you remember the dangers before doing this.
“Human behavior is heavily influenced by deeply ingrained societal norms,” the study authors wrote.
Chatting with your neighbor might be tempting when you run into her walking her dog at the same time you walk yours, but you need to remember that the six feet rule isn’t even enough to keep you safe from the virus.
Remember that these things will be so much sweeter once social distancing orders are lifted.