Decision-Making in a Pandemic

Decision-making in the time of COVID can be, for many of us, overwhelming. Things we never had to consider before are now areas of concern. Should we go to a Broadway play or museum? Should we attend a sporting event indoors? Should we go to that concert, where people will sit shoulder to shoulder, even though it is outside?

When it comes to children too young to be vaccinated, the calculus becomes even more complicated. It is clear that children need contact outside the family. In infancy and early childhood, they benefit greatly from contact with grandparents aunts, uncles, cousins. As toddlers, their development is facilitated by relationships with people outside the family, including teachers, babysitters, and friends. Unfortunately, in the past 20 months, in order to stay safe and keep our loved ones healthy, we have all experienced disruptions and changes in these vital human connections.

We have been forced to make decisions about how much risk we are able to bear when the stakes–our health–are very high.

And yet, how do we actually deal with risk?

In the New York Times Parenting Newsletter, Jessica Grose writes about her own experience calculating risk for her child explaining the challenges of calculating risk with the help of scientists and psychologists.

First, she learns that it is indeed exhausting to be faced with so many decisions, and once exhausted, we may just check out of worry. 

What I learned was that my brain has become so taxed by all the heavy-lifting around virus decisions that I became indifferent out of self preservation. And I’m not alone.

When faced with risk, the amygdala is first to kick in, putting us on high alert and warning us of danger. We can make quick decisions based on our emotions, and while they may or may not be scientifically valid, we find ways to rationalize them to ourselves after the fact. When we have more time (or less stress), our frontal lobe comes online, and we can exercise thought, judgment, and reasoning to aid in making more objectively based, analytical decisions.

In these times when we are faced with more decisions and stress than usual, I would recommend 2 things: Talking and playing.

First, talk things over with someone. Talking to a friend or someone you trust is an antidote to stress, as connections sustain and support us and are particularly important in difficult times. After talking things over, we are often better able to tune into our own values and desires, calculate risks and benefits, and make good decisions.

Play. You need it, and your children need it. Being playful is clearly an antidote to stress, but playing is also a way to engage your imagination and creativity. It opens up thinking and feeling, and, like talking, helps us to tune into what is important to us.

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