As a culture, Americans aren’t used to giving up personal freedoms in support of the collective good. So when COVID-19 struck, cutting a path from New York City all the way to Redondo Beach, we suddenly had to contend with the fact that even our smallest actions as individuals can have life-or-death consequences towards the rest of the population.
The idea that we now have to factor other people in our decision-making – with the added pressure that thousands of lives are on the line if we are remiss – is incredibly stressful for many people. This phenomenon is called moral fatigue.
Preventing Moral Fatigue During COVID-19
What is Moral Fatigue?
Moral fatigue refers to a phenomenon in which an individual recognizes the correct thing to do but is unable to pursue it because of their current circumstances.
For example, a trip to the supermarket to stock up on groceries never used to be a moral dilemma. You’d walk into the store, wander the aisles without direction, pick up and put down items you’re considering, and check out without a second thought. And if you forgot something, you could always return the next day.
Now, it isn’t so simple. Going to the supermarket means constantly being mindful that you’re not doing anything to put other people at risk. So many questions arise: are you wearing your mask correctly? Are you putting adequate distance between yourself and the next person? Did you touch too many things and forget to disinfect your hands?
On top of that, you’ve got to be very sure you didn’t forget anything, so you don’t have to repeat this entire rigmarole tomorrow!
Worse still, moral fatigue can’t be solved by simply making the “right” choices, because in situations like this, the line between right and wrong becomes very muddled. There’s never been an etiquette book on what to do in a pandemic. Whatever option you choose, it’s never going to be 100% the correct one.
For instance, you might decide to skip going to the supermarket by getting your groceries delivered. The upside of that decision is that you eliminate the risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus because you’ll be one less person out on the streets. The downside could mean that having anything shipped to your home means you’re asking the delivery guy to risk his life by being the person out on the streets in your place.
It’s exhausting. Dr. Michael Baur, a specialist in moral philosophy at Fordham University, tells Rolling Stone, “We are now, in many ways, thinking about things that we wouldn’t have previously reflected on.”
And this is why everyday life has suddenly mutated into an unrecognizable minefield. The smallest actions can lead to disastrously huge consequences, so now we’re feeling the heat to never even put a toe out of line.
4 Tips for Preventing Moral Fatigue
For certain, we’re going to continue to make decisions that can affect the lives of others for the months to come. Here are ways that you can prevent moral fatigue and improve your overall mental health during the time of COVID-19.
1 – Eliminate Stressors
While we can’t eliminate COVID-19 itself through sheer willpower, we can consciously cut down on some of the activities that cause us stress and moral fatigue.
For example, if going out stresses you because of the sheer amount of decisions you have to make while in public, try to limit the amount of time you spend outside. Schedule your errands, make lists of what you need to accomplish, and stay focused. Pop in and out, and don’t linger.
Stressors include triggers at home too. The Internet, for example, is a prime source of moral fatigue with the noise of people soapboxing differing opinions. It’s important to stay on top of your facts and news about the virus, of course, but you can limit moral fatigue by avoiding toxic comments sections and arguments on social media.
2 – Focus On What You Can Control
Moral fatigue can cause problems when we begin to feel so pressured about how we should act that we start to be harmful or unkind to ourselves. It may ease your mind to remember that there is no perfect answer to the decisions we have to make right now.
We can hold off going to the store for leisure, for example, but when the pantry needs refilling, the imperative choice is go out and get food. In these instances, we must do our best to follow social distancing and other safety guidelines, but we must recognize that some things are beyond our control.
At the end of the day, what matters is that we tried our hardest to prevent harm from befalling our family and our community.
3 – Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as the moment-to-moment awareness of one’s present situation. In the past, when everything was automatic, instant, and designed to keep us pushing through our busy lifestyles, we may not have had much opportunity to practice mindfulness.
However, during a pandemic, every decision now has to be met with critical thought. We can’t rush through a day anymore; increasingly, we are being asked to wait, make changes in our routines, and adapt to this new way of being.
Now, we can resist these changes and gripe about how life isn’t as easy and efficient as it used to be – or we can embrace what’s happening.
By accepting that we have to engage in the present moment, we allow our minds to become more observant and flexible. We become more attentive to the needs of others around us, and to how our actions – even ones as simple as how close we’re standing to the next person – affect them.
Mindfulness is scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, improve relationships, and help you balance your emotions. This leads to better decision-making, and diverts your attention from negative, panic-based thinking. Spend a few minutes each day practicing mindfulness through active listening, journaling, meditation, exercise, and breathing exercises.
4 – Talk to a Therapist in Redondo Beach
This is an unprecedented time, and the entire world is going through a collective traumatic experience. The odds are that you’ve gone on a roller-coaster of emotions during this time, exacerbated by things like isolation, unemployment, financial insecurity, grief and loss, and others.
The advice of a trauma therapist is available to you if you need it. Speak to our mental health professional today to help manage your moral fatigue during these tumultuous times.