A risk of keeping yourself informed during this lockdown is that it can all too quickly descend into an exercise in despair rounded off by episodes of pointless rage.
I have noticed there is a lot of focus on people's personal behaviour. Images like the one above have been used in the media for the purposes of moralising about what other people are getting up to.
This BBC article asks, Lockdown: Are people breaking covid rules? To which the answer is you can't tell from movement data, you can only tell that people are moving around more than they did in the first lock down.
Although my favourite article in this genre is we are a nation of snitches. In it Joel Golby wonders why it is we have become so much more interested in monitoring each other for any signs of rule breaking, when in fact "we're in another lockdown because of a massive public health failure"
This is not an unusual response, A yougov survey on the 21st of December found that 51% of people thought the public were to blame for the rise in cases, while 31% thought the Government were to blame. While perplexingly approximately 80% to 90% of people say they are following the rules all or nearly all the time.
We very frequently focus our attention onto individuals rather than institutions. In part we are encouraged to do this. Barely a day goes by without a press briefing emphasising how important it is for us as individuals to follow the rules. This is reinforced with stories about the police fining people for things like playing pokemon go.
I think also our tendency to focus on individual behaviour is because this is where we feel we have some power or control. We can much more easily target our anger at rule breakers, by yelling "Mask!" at a non-compliant colleague in a stairwell for instance.
It's much harder to feel the same kind of control or power if you wish to direct yoru anger at an institution. It may also feel threatening to do so, as we are relying on those institutions to make good decisions and keep us safe. It's important for our own sense of safety we believe the Government are handling the crisis well.
Masks wearing in particular is often singled out for attention. It's not difficult to find strong opinions about mask wearing, such as this researcher advocating wearing masks while out jogging or cycling. I notice people commonly focus on mask wearing practices when comparing different countries.
Focusing on mask wearing has the benefit of being highly visible. It's also very clear cut, you are either wearing one properly or you aren't. It enables us to make moral inferences about a person in a relatively unambiguous way. I would also suggest that because of these features people tend to overestimate the importance of mask wearing over other control measures such as social distancing and ensuring adequate ventilation.
Although seeking to control the behaviour of others through shaming by say joining Covidiots UK Facebook group, or by sharing mask memes, may help us to feel more in control, it also opens us up to feeling powerless and out of control.
So if I am doing everything I can to make sure I don't get infected. I am one of the 90% who always follow the rules. Obviously when I do break them, I am being sensible. My only risk is other people being too selfish or too stupid to follow the rules. By focusing on this, I will now notice just how often people don't wear masks, or don't wear them properly. The more anxious and hence angry I become the more I will notice just how little control I have over the actions of others. This is what anxiety does - it searches for things we are afraid of.
A major driver of anxiety is being unable to tolerate uncertainty. Rather than try to improve our ability to tolerate uncertainty, which means tolerating feeling anxious, we instead seek to control the things making us anxious. These are invariably things which are external to us, such as other people not following the rules, whether that be mask wearing, social distancing, or staying local.
By making our safety dependent on the actions of others, we are not only highlighting our own powerlessness, we are also abdicating our responsibility to ourselves for taking care of our own safety.
A few years ago, I was driving with a friend who is an advanced driver, and we got tailgated. I got anxious and then angry with the person behind for being so inconsiderate. My friend said all I needed to do was to allow enough distance to the car in front to give both of us sufficient room to brake.
This kind of thinking is only obvious when you are thinking about how you can respond meaningfully to the situation around you. Its impossible if you are getting angry with someone for not following the rules.
So you can spend your time getting angry at the covidiots, or you could spend your time thinking about how you are going to respond to people who are doing things which impact your safety, like not wearing a mask, or not socially distancing.
There is always something I can do. I can decide to stand further away. I can decide not to go through the same till. If I think there are too many people in a shop I can go to another shop.
From a personal perspective, I am not bothered by rule breaking. What I focus on is what I am doing to protect myself and to protect others. I also accept that I can not take out all risk, there is inherent uncertainty in just living.
For me I am a therapist, this is what I do. It gives me meaning, and makes sense of who I am as a person. And to be a therapist some people need to see me face to face. And yes of course there is a risk. I have done as much as I can to take that risk down as far as I can. And I trust the people I see that they also care about my health as I care about theirs. This is as much as I can do.
That's my own personal strategy for coping, it's unique to me. Yours will be unique to you.
Photo courtesy of Free Photos on Pixabay