How The Pandemic Has Short-Circuited Our Rationality (infographic)

Unless you are a medical or food service worker, chances are you are sitting at home scrolling through social media waiting for the pandemic to end. We all know that scrolling through social media all day isn’t the best way to cope with life, even during the best of times, but it can be downright destructive given the current pandemic state of the world. There’s a lot of bad news out there, both negative news and false news, and the information overload we are experiencing right now can make it difficult to tell the difference between the two. If you are having difficulty feeling rational or feeling sad for the state of the world, you’re not alone. You probably have isolation fatigue.

The Psychology Behind Our Reactions To The Pandemic

In the wake of the pandemic and the social isolation it has necessitated, two in three Americans has reported feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or hopeless at least once a week. One of the problems is the unknown factor of this pandemic. Typically when we want to accomplish something we make a goal, envision what steps it would take to achieve it, and then set about working toward that goal. Right now, however, we aren’t able to envision goals because there are so many unknowns, so we stop envisioning our goals and put them on the back burner, which leaves us in this weird place where there is no future and no room for goals.

And that’s just one of the psychological factors behind why we are feeling the way we are feeling right now. All the uncertainty is also feeding into our need to protect ourselves, and in a lot of instances our rational thinking is being compromised by our strong biological drive to survive.

For example, when you go to the store and you see toilet paper on the shelf, you might say to yourself that you don’t actually need toilet paper right now, but then your survival drive kicks in and tells you that you don’t know when you will see it again and you’d better get it so you aren’t sorry later.

Of course, toilet paper isn’t really necessary for survival, and contrary to popular belief it’s not even the highest selling item in stores right now.

Panic Buying Has Come In Full Force

The single biggest increase in purchasing for any one item right now is baking yeast. Compared with this time last year, baking yeast has experienced a 647% increase in purchasing, despite the fact bread is still mostly available. People are baking at home more than ever before, and flour is also flying off the shelves. This is three times the increase of toilet paper, which has risen 213% over last year in terms of consumer purchases.


Cleaning and sanitation products, like disinfectants and hand sanitizers, have also exploded in popularity despite the fact that hand washing is still the most commonly recommended way to fight the spread of COVID-19.

But other purchases seem to make more sense. As the supply chain for food begins to crumble, animals are being slaughtered and not processed and milk is being dumped because it can’t get to market. As a result, sales of fruit and vegetable seeds, chickens, freezers, and flour skyrocketed as people tried to look for ways to fend for themselves in the wake of unprecedented uncertainty.

Our Brains Are Overloading And Shorting Out

Chronic stress can only register for so long before it becomes the new normal and we adjust to it. As a result, over time your brain compensates and you may start to have difficulty feeling the right emotions for a given situation. Whereas you felt sad at the loss of life early on in the pandemic, over time the emotional fatigue makes it difficult to feel sad anymore.

This may have the effect of making it harder for us to make rational decisions as this pandemic rages on. We literally can’t comprehend the exponential growth of the spread of this disease and the subsequent danger we are in because our brains have already had enough, so we stop being able to make the best decisions about wearing masks, social distancing, reopening the economy, and more.

Learn more about the psychology of isolation fatigue from the infographic below.



Read next: Practicing Social Distancing Without Feeling Isolated (infographic)

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