Daily Routine Upheaval Causing “Decision Fatigue”

This time of quarantine can have a wide range of effects on people depending on life circumstances as well as their age.

Barrette Plett

Barrette Plett is a counsellor at Recovery of Hope in Winkler and is also a teacher with the Garden Valley School Division. Plett says his training and specialization as a counsellor is with families and children, however, he sees clients in all areas.

Plett says the pandemic has forced an upheaval in our daily routines, and we’ve been left making our new routines and schedules as we go. He says, for a lot of people, that has been leading to something that can be referred to as decision fatigue.

He says we’re usually on autopilot for many of our decisions throughout the day, and now we have to make decisions about more things throughout the day. Having to make more decisions takes mental energy, Plett added. “The more decisions we have to make about small things we used to not have to make, like, do I take the kids along to the grocery store or not? Should I use my hand sanitizer before or after I go into the grocery store? There are all these decisions, and it just makes us feel drained.”

Plett says, because this is new territory for almost everybody, we don’t have any comparison points to past experience, so it’s hard to know whether we’re doing a good job or not. He says we can only compare to what we see on social media, and on social media, we are often getting a false picture, as it often looks like someone else is handling the situation perfectly.

The decision fatigue Plett is seeing right now is something he would often see when someone experiences a major life transition like a death in the family or employment change, where someone or a family is trying to establish a new normal. The difference now, it’s happening so rapidly, and it’s happening to everybody. “Most of us have that one solid friend we could turn to, and now that friend is trying to figure things out.”

Even if it’s only week by week, Plett recommends wherever possible, to try and set new routines.

“As we go through this journey, it’s important that we give ourselves grace, and we need to forgive ourselves, and not hold ourselves to too high a standard,” says Plett. “We’re all doing the best we can.”

Plett adds, for parents, wherever possible, they should try to find ways to do self-care. “Especially for a lot of parents who are spending more and more time with their kids than they’ve been used to. If they can find ways to get out, and get a break, that’s important.”

As we remain in a time of waiting, and with the uncertainty of not knowing when this will end, Plett says that can become an uncomfortable place to be. “I think it’s important, because of the uncertainty, to not put things on hold and just feel like we’re waiting, then we feel trapped. I think, if we like we can act, if we take actions that are manageable for us, it will help us to feel like we’re not just stuck and waiting.”

Unplugging from social media and news as much as possible can also help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by the situation. “To unplug and disconnect from that as much as possible, and to get outside and be in nature is therapeutic. Just being outside and getting fresh air, those are important things.”

Just like adults, the uncertainty of the situation surrounding COVID-19 can cause similar stress for young kids and teenagers.

For a lot of young kids, Plett says not getting to see family and friends, and not getting hugs from their grandma can be stress triggers. “Even if they see people, not getting to touch them or hug them. Kids don’t respect personal space the way that adults do. They like to be close, they’re close talkers, they are tactile, so it’s really tough for kids not to be able to connect in those ways.”

Plett says kids can also take on the stress of their parents. “I don’t want to say that, and make parents worry, that now, because they’re stressed, they have to not be stresse,d so that their kids aren’t stressed, that’s just a vicious cycle. But it is something to notice.”

Kids also thrive on routine, so that may also be causing some stress for kids. 

Meanwhile, since social distancing measures began in response to the pandemic, Plett notes he’s spoken to a few other practitioners who work with kids that have behavioural challenges. He says they’ve noted a number of those kids aren’t having as much trouble because some of the daily pressures they usually face have been reduced.

When it comes to teenagers, Plett notes one big difference is that many are feeling an acute lack of connection with their peers. He says developmentally teenagers are looking to differentiate with their parents and to connect with peers. “They’re very focused on friendships so it’s very hard not being able to see their friends although with technology they can feel connected. I think the other thing for some teenagers, especially those in grades 11 and 12 and maybe just after high school, they’re wondering how this will affect their graduation and plans for after high school.”

Plett says when kids do talk to their parents or an adult, it’s important for the adult to know that they won’t always have an answer or solution. “If a kid raises a concern that we can’t solve, like when are we going back to school? Kids are going to have lots of concerns right now that we can’t do anything about, and it’s really okay for us as parents to say, you know, I’m wondering about that too, it’s really hard not knowing.”

Plett says we can hold back on our instinct on trying to solve the kid’s problems because it’s also validating and helpful for people just to have their concerns heard and validated, even if there isn’t anything we can do to alleviate those concerns.”

Reprinted with permission from Pembina Valley Online