Pandemic Burnout Part Two: What If There Is No Defined Endgame?

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As we muddle our way through the pandemic, many people seem to be focusing on the endgame. Surely, Moderna, Pfizer, or one of the other zillion companies working on a vaccine will succeed in finding one, we will all be immunized and that will be that. The pandemic will recede, we will all breathe deeply – without our masks on – and the world will go back to pre-pandemic days. Except, the great likelihood is that that is not what’s going to happen. Instead, we are more likely to see Covid-19 hang around for quite a while longer. It will eventually be more fully understood and more treatable. And, yes, a vaccine will probably hit the market. But, according to Dr. Fauci and others, it’s possible that a vaccine might only be about 60% effective. And, based on current estimates, only about 70% of the country will be vaccinated. Quick math tells us that less than half the country will be protected if those numbers are even close to accurate. So, what does that mean for us everyday Joes and Joannas? Following are some considerations.

  1. Manage uncertainty. This will be key to a relatively happy existence. The pandemic is going to continue for a while. Whether your uncertainty is work-related or has to do with your home life, you are going to have to deal with it for, well, an uncertain amount of time. The best leaders are those who manage well through uncertainty. Do you know what Uber, Venmo, and What’sApp have in common? They were all founded during the 2008 financial meltdown, or in its immediate aftermath. During those incredibly uncertain times, the founders of those companies took a chance and led their businesses through the uncertainty to achieve great success.

While those are business examples, they are applicable to personal life as well. I suspect that what the founders of those companies had in common was a tremendous amount of resiliency and the ability to be flexible. Those two qualities will help you manage your personal and professional lives through these uncertain times as well.

Maybe you’ve been told that your kids will be going back to school. You can’t wait to send the kids back to the classroom so that they can resume some semblance of normal life and you can get back to work. But then case numbers increase, and your school district reverts to remote learning. What will you do? Before this happens, have a solid Plan B and, yes, Plan C in place for you and your family. Kids go to the neighbor’s on Monday and Wednesday so you can work, and on Tuesday and Thursday you switch off with your spouse. Uh, oh, the neighbor just backed out of the deal. Not ideal, but you’ve already thought of Plan C, in which you work from 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM and your spouse works from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

Bottom line: think through as many contingencies as possible and create as much certainty as you can. It will reduce your stress dramatically.

  1. Unplug and decompress. Even before the pandemic started, we were living in emotionally fraught times. Our political differences were huge and causing friction. A reckoning was in the works with the #metoo movement, and numerous other issues related to inequality were percolating. Then, the pandemic hit, followed shortly thereafter by the death of George Floyd, which unleashed a huge outpouring of pent up emotions.

When you put this entire mix of ingredients together it’s combustible, no way around that. One way to let a little steam out of the mix is to not obsess over it. Do you find yourself constantly checking for COVID-related news? Or do you maybe feel tempted to join arguments on social media over mask-wearing or social distancing regulations? If you frequently find yourself emotionally wrapped up in these or similarly fraught topics, consider working some COVID-free periods into life. Skip checking the news for a day or log out of your social media accounts. Read a book, go for a hike, listen to an old album (for me it’s The Beatles’ channel on SiriusXM), or just call someone you haven’t spoken with in a while. Escaping the news cycle, even just for a bit, can often help you regain some much-needed perspective.

  1. Lean into your new reality, don’t fight it. In short, let yourself adjust to the way things are now, trying not to hold on so tightly to how they used to be. Most of us have been doing this already, without realizing it. Four months ago, going to the grocery store was a really big deal. But, now, following the arrows, waiting a little longer to check out, and accepting that there may still be shortages of certain items are all pretty much second nature to most of us.

Consider thinking about it this way: what would you do differently if you found out today that life as we knew it wouldn’t be returning for at least a year, maybe more. How would you adjust? I’m betting that, if you haven’t already, you’d quickly come to accept the new grocery store reality. What else would you do? Would you go to that dentist appointment that you’ve already postponed twice since March? Would you get your car serviced? Spend a little time thinking about what you’ve put ‘on-hold’ and whether or not it’s time to (safely) reintroduce some of those things back into your life.

The pandemic will end, but it will take some time. Instead of just waiting impatiently for ”normal life” to return, think about small ways that you can lessen your uncertainty and adjust to your personal situation. Making decisions and taking action is almost always better than sitting back and anxiously waiting for things to happen.

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