This morning, I hit a lockdown low point. I considered going to the salon for a haircut. It’s one of those things I cancelled in March and delayed until sometime far away. I made an appointment for a date that felt, back then, frighteningly distant and put the haircut out of my mind. But today I looked at my calendar and realized the date had arrived. My appointment was scheduled for this Friday.
Reader, before you get too worried, I cancelled the haircut. I have asthma. COVID-19 cases in my area are rising. I decided it’s just not worth it. But what worries me is that in the moment, I almost talked myself into getting the haircut.
I have been a lockdown nut. Friends have taken to teasing me by saying they’re going to go to a restaurant just to watch me freak out. A few weeks ago, I wiped an eggplant down with a Clorox wipe before putting it in the fridge. So the idea that I was seriously considering an activity ranked 7 out of 10 on the COVID-19 risk chart gave me pause.
I don’t think I’m alone in getting a little wobbly about my lockdown limits. In the United States, we’ve been living-amid-pandemic for four months now. We have COVID fatigue, and we want all of this to be over. It’s worse now that all those appointments, dates, vacations, and normal activities we pushed until ‘sometime this summer’ are starting to sneak up on us. But COVID-19 cases are still rising (or rising again, or never stopped rising) in the United States.
The challenge for me isn’t around where to draw the lines, or with the fact that some people’s lines are different than mine — everyone has to set their own limits! No, the hard part about lockdown fatigue is how hard it makes sticking to my own predetermined limits. How am I supposed to stay vigilant (however that looks for me) when it feels like this will never end? For when should I reasonably reschedule my hair cut? 2022?
Coronavirus deaths in US trending up sharply in almost every region and a majority of states, including many beyond the hard-hit Sun Belt. Although testing has remained flat, 20 states and Puerto Rico reported a record-high average of new infections https://t.co/kWXle344UW
— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) July 13, 2020
Reevaluate the risks
The first step is taking a look at the numbers in your area. My favorite place to do this is the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. There, I zoom in on my county and see how our cases are changing. In Minneapolis, my county is a deep purple, meaning we have a lot of cases per 100k people. That means I should be extra careful.
In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was easier to say ‘no’ to tempting activities because the pandemic felt finite. If COVID-19 was only going to last for a few weeks or months, I could wait to go on vacation or get a haircut or browse the aisles of a bookstore. All I had to do was think, “I can wait until this is all over!”
Now, because I don’t know how long this will last, I have a hard time deciding what my priorities should be. That’s especially true because the economy’s priorities don’t match up with health and safety recommendations. On a walk around the neighborhood, I now often see people eating on a restaurant patio despite the county’s rising cases. Even for me, it’s easy to think it might be worth it to grab a quick sandwich. It looks so safe! And all of those other people are doing it.
So I’ve started asking myself a somewhat sinister question when I find myself seriously wanting to break quarantine: If I end up in the hospital later, will I be glad I did [insert risky activity]? If someone else ends up in the hospital, will it have been worth it?
The answer, more often than not, is no.
That gut check works for me in the moment, but psychologists have also recommended that each of us make a list of the activities we need to do to survive and the ones we just want to do. They say to evaluate the risks of each of our wants and decide what’s worth it to you. That way, it might be possible for each person to decide what works for them.
It’s important to do your own risk evaluation instead of just relying on a chart, lovely as the above one from Texas Medical Association is. That’s because while getting a haircut might make me feel too anxious to be worth it, someone else might draw a different line for themselves.
As we’ve been reminded time after time in this pandemic, there is no no-risk activity. Anyone could contract COVID-19 – even the most cautious among us. You could end up in the hospital from getting a delivery, walking the dog with a mask on, or going to the grocery store. You could get the coronavirus from working an essential job to pay rent, too. Since no activity is no-risk, we have to make our own choices about what’s worth it and what isn’t.
Get an accountability partner
Right now, your partner probably can’t be trusted to decide if something is safe enough to do. Your parents, either. The people who love you most in the world want you to be happy. They also want things to go back to normal! They want you to get a haircut if that’s what you want! (Or maybe they want you to be safe inside bubble wrap, never to leave the house again.)
So you need someone else to turn to. Enter: your accountability partner. An accountability partner is traditionally someone who helps you with health or wellness goals. Think — a workout buddy or a friend who’s writing a novel just like you. You hold each other accountable for taking steps to reach your goals. The same can work with COVID.
The best part is that your accountability partner can be imaginary.
If you find yourself trying to think through the risks associated with activities that fall outside of your comfort zone, think of the safest person you know — the person who hasn’t taken any risks since the pandemic started, the person who sends you articles about the risks of contracting or spreading COVID-19. When you’re really tempted to throw all caution to the wind, think of that person. How would they respond if you told them what you were going to do?
When it comes down to it, you probably won’t even have to talk to a real-life accountability partner. Just imagining their response will be enough. That’s because this kind of ‘accountability partner’ is really a way of checking in with yourself. It’s an imaginary exercise that’s really a gut check for what you know to be true about what you should do.
Rewrite your COVID timeline
It’s time to rethink when this will all be over. It’s hard, but the numbers suggest our lives will be different for a long time to come. The state of California just announced new closures. Students in Los Angeles and San Diego (among other cities) will not be returning to in-person school come fall.
Most people I’ve talked to say they’re mentally preparing themselves for another year of this. Some say they think it’ll take two or three years before we have a vaccine and can return to life as it was before.
has anyone else switched to mentally preparing for a vaccine, normal travel, and a return to the office to take at least 9 to 12 more months
— Karen K. Ho (@karenkho) July 13, 2020
Either way, we each need to rewrite our own timelines. Everything might not come to a standstill again like it did in March and April, but we’ll be in a state of “COVID-weird” for a long while. It’s worth talking this through with the people you live with. What are everyone’s expectations? How realistic are those expectations? What’s a timeline you can cope with? Remember that you might have to revise it again later.
I haven’t rescheduled my haircut for later this summer or even in the fall. When I thought about what’s “worth it” to me, and when I imagined my accountability partners, I realized I was okay with my hair growing long and uneven. I’m curious to find out what it looks like in a year, if that’s how long it takes. Until then, it’s not like anyone will be able to see me.