Confronting COVID Senioritis

Confronting COVID Senioritis

We call it senioritis, but it is actually a broader condition that affects most of us in our lives. Psychologists call it Drive Reduction Theory.

It is based on the idea that the motivation underlying human behavior is to reduce “drives”, a state of arousal or discomfort triggered by basic needs. According to the theory, when a drive emerges, the ensuing state of tension causes a person to react in a way that reduces it. When we feel hungry, we are motivated to eat.

Once we satisfy this drive, we feel a sense of balance, or homeostasis. For most biological needs, the response is simple and predictable. For complex biological processes, like a viral pandemic, the responses can be multi-factorial and complex. But the underlying response to the driver remains the same – regain a balance.

In the early days of the pandemic, many felt an immense sense of existential despair and loneliness. This resulted in an alarmingly high number of suicides and drug overdoses. Others felt a sense of angst and disillusionment. This manifested as mistrust in the healthcare system and in health policy leaders.

But thankfully, many responded by finding solutions to curb the pandemic’s carnage. This led to the novel mRNA vaccines and an improved understanding of viral epidemiology.

Now that we are past the acute phase of the pandemic, we have a different driver. Previously, we sought ways to cope with the acute stress of COVID. Now, we have settled into a sense of false assurance. We are comfortably numb living in a world where the pandemic rages on as a persistent simmer. For many, homeostasis is in ignoring it all.

We like to believe we are close to achieving some closure with COVID. That the virus, “we will learn to live with”, will assume normalcy relative to what we understand normal to mean in this day and age.

This cannot be further from the truth. We respond to the environment. The environment does not respond to us. We seem to have forgotten this in our current age, but it is a painful reality that beset humanity throughout its history.

Humanity survived because it learned to adapt. Adaption comes from observing and responding to the environment, which is a far cry from the learned apathy many have developed about the pandemic.

For us to respond appropriately to the pandemic, we must acknowledge that actively responding is important. This starts with motivation, which is particularly important in healthcare. When we lack the motivation to maintain our health, we fall prey to chronic diseases. When healthcare workers lose their motivation, health outcomes worsen. The effects are cumulative because so much of healthcare relates in some way.

This is why we see less COVID testing alongside a decrease in concern for the pandemic. The public is suffering from COVID fatigue and the response is feigned ignorance. So though we see a decrease in COVID cases, we do not know whether it is a true decrease in viral spread or simply a decrease in what the data shows.

We see people walking around maskless, congregating in large groups, and resuming a pre-COVID lifestyle. We like to think the pandemic is over. But we do not know. Our primary impulse at the moment is to just wish it away, because that is the quickest path to a perceived homeostasis.

This is a false balance. It relies on erroneous assumptions and leads to a misguided sense of comfort. What we need, now more than ever, is a true balance, a well-grounded understanding of the current pandemic realities. Yes, a pandemic is still among us. It may not be raging, but it is sizzling. And that presents with its own set of risks, albeit not as severe as before.

So rather than dismiss the pandemic entirely, we must understand that a small risk is still a risk and avoid the tendency of dividing things into all or nothing. Either we are stuck in a life threatening pandemic set to destroy humankind or it is all a hoax. In this state of extremism, we naturally gravitate toward convenient solutions, which are nothing more than fool’s gold, a false balance.

To achieve a true balance, to truly satisfy the drivers that emerged out of the pandemic, we need a balanced understanding of the pandemic.

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