Claudia Finkelstein, Michigan State University

It’s the second we believed we were all waiting for…or is it?
We were cautiously optimistic about the end of the pandemic in view of rising vaccine availability and decreasing case numbers following the peak in January.

Next , whether due to variations , pandemic fatigue or both, cases and case positivity began to increase again – throwing into question whether the end was as near as we thought. This is merely one of the most recent of many reversals.

I am a physician and associate professor of medicine in Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. In my position as the manager of wellness , resiliency and vulnerable populations , I talk with faculty and staff members who might need a sympathetic ear or may be fighting .

Amid the happiness and relief that people are feeling, I also see confusion and some fear . Some people are wary of going out again, and others are eager to throw a party. Some learned they like being alone and don’t want to stop nesting. I believe this is all normal from a year of what I call the zigzag pandemic.

Change after change

Awareness of the novel coronavirus for most of us rose between January – when the first cases in China were reported – and March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization officially announced a pandemic. Since the announcement , daily uncertainty and conflicting information have been the norm.

To begin with , no masks were needed. Then you had to wear a mask. Hydroxychloroquine looked promising and obtained emergency use authorization, but that was revoked fairly quickly and officials said not only was there no gain but there was some potential harm.

We were transiently frightened of groceries, packages and surfaces. Then data emerged that surfaces weren’t as harmful as previously believed .

In the absence of a coordinated national policy, states started to fend for themselves, creating their own policies regarding shutdowns and masks.
Even now, there is state-by-state variability in which businesses may be open and in what capacity and whether masks are required, suggested or .

Both inevitable and avoidable factors played into the back-and-forth. Part of the whiplash is because of the “ novel ” part of this novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2. This virus is new and a lot of its attributes unknown, resulting in policy revisions becoming necessary as more becomes known.

Part of the zigzag is due to the character of clinical trials and the nature of the way scientific knowledge emerges. Learning about a new pathogen requires the willingness to challenge initial assumptions. Part is due to the lack of a trusted source of information trusted to act in our collective best interests and a lack of preparedness.

Given the reversals behind us and uncertainty ahead, we will need to examine both individual and societal responses moving forward.

Different experiences

There’s absolutely no question that most of our lives have changed. However, the ways in which they have changed has varied widely. The variation is dependent upon our tasks – consider the differences for supermarket , tech and health care workers – our living situations, our underlying physical and psychological health, our financial status and our personalities, just to begin with.

For example , some introverts have been fortunate enough to work remotely in comfortable clothes with broadband internet and no children to educate, while their extroverted colleagues have longed for more social connection . Their colleagues with young kids and jobs that could not be done remotely have been scrambling. Many have hit the wall and find themselves adrift and unmotivated, but others have apparently thrived doing long-postponed jobs .

Nearly everyone was affected in some way. A recent systematic review
Concluded that the pandemic is associated with highly significant levels of emotional distress, particularly in certain higher-risk groups.

As individuals, what can help us get through this?

What we can do for ourselves

First, we can start by building a fearless assessment of our current reality – the state of today . Sometimes making a genuine list of our needs and assets can help us prioritize next steps. Steps may be visiting a community gym , a virtual therapist, a job fair or even something as straightforward as carrying a printable wallet card with stress reduction tips.

What might work for you may not work for your spouse, partner or best friend . We will need to be doing whatever is known to foster resilience in ourselves and our relatives .

This includes making human relations , moving our bodies and learning to regulate our emotions. Looking back at how we managed past issues may help us. Emotional health concerns have become more prevalent , and signs on overall impact of the pandemic on mental health is still being collected .

There has been increased public awareness about these issues, and telehealth has eased access for some seeking aid . Our society – individuals as well as institutions – wants to continue to work to make it acceptable for people to find mental health care without worrying about stigma.

Deciding which of your regular activities you wish to resume and to let go of helps you prepare for the future. So does noting that new actions youd like to continue to. These lists potentially include attending family or sporting events, traveling, going to the gym or live worship. You may choose to continue to cook at home or work from home if you have the choice. Of course , all of these options should be made in light of CDC guidelines.

And then there are things we might not wish to do. That can include behaviors we heard about during the pandemic that doest make us feel good or serve us well. That may consist of watching too much news, drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough sleep. And maybe there are some relationships that need changing or reworking.

Then, we will need to think about what we can do on a degree larger than the individual.

Societal and governmental changes

For a lot of people, it feels futile to address individual resilience without addressing what feels like a rigged system.

The pandemic hit at a particularly politically polarized time and a specially unprepared moment . This was unfortunate, because fighting a frequent adversary – such as polio or a world war – can unite a population.

In contrast , the coronavirus was subject to numerous conflicting interpretations and even doubt about its severity . As opposed to rallying together against the virus, our adherence to mandates became a surrogate for our political beliefs.

Now that longstanding inequities have been emphasized by differential disease , hospitalization and mortality rates by race, governmental and public health officials may begin a careful analysis of the openings in medical care coverage by race.

While examining how to efficiently address longstanding disparities is crucial , so is being prepared for the upcoming pandemic. A coordinated nonpartisan, science-based health infrastructure prepared to rapidly roll out emergency responses in addition to consistent, clear messaging would be vital. However, with no population eager to consider collective good ahead of individual freedom , we run the risk of repeating history.

Claudia Finkelstein, Associate Professor of Medicine, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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