The Two Little Voices and COVID Decisions

When I make decisions about interacting with the wider world during COVID, I hear two little voices. These voices alternate between encouraging me to go out to socialize and warning me to be careful as the coronavirus lurks everywhere.

Before I go to an event, the voices in my head chatter about safety. The first voice says something reasonable like, “Don’t worry, you’ll be physically distancing and wearing a mask.” This voice chants Yes! Yes! Go! You will be fine! There’s not much COVID around here.

The second voice sounds a warning with words like, “Can I afford to risk getting sick? Or bringing the virus home to my husband? Or spreading it to my grandchildren?” This voice screams No! No! Don’t go! Fear kicks in and underlines potential dangers especially as, once again, the daily rates of positive tests in Ontario are spiking.

people sitting on chairs near table during daytime
Two little voices — one says ‘Go out and socialize’ — photo courtesy of Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash

stay home, stay safe
Two little voices — one says ‘Stay Home and Stay Safe’ — photo courtesy of United Nations on Unsplash

Risks and Benefits

The two inner voices argue about risks and benefits — sometimes for days — before I go to a social activity. Each voice makes claims to support its position with one citing the risks and the other tantalizing me with all the benefits.

I know that every decision in life involves a degree of risk.  When I drive my car, I take a risk of having an accident or getting a traffic ticket. But, without using my car, I’m stuck at home or on public transit. If I choose to use my car to travel, I accept some level of risk when driving.

With any life decision, I weigh the benefits. The benefit of driving is convenience and comfort when I need to get around town or go to the cottage.

Similar to the risks and benefits of driving, there are risks and benefits to COVID-related decisions. If I meet friends for morning coffee in the park, I have the benefit of socialization. I can mitigate the risk with precautions such as keeping 2 meters away, wearing my mask, minimizing the degree and duration of exposure, and washing my hands as soon as I get home. I can also mitigate risk by limiting the number of times I leave the house. I can choose to go to places and events that are not crowded  — or leave a venue if too many people show up.

Evaluating Risks and Benefits

Scientists have clear definitions of risk and benefit when conducting research especially when human subjects are involved.

In my personal life, I’m aware of the risks of contracting the virus including the harm that may come to me and my family. Evaluating benefits is trickier. I need to consider what’s in it for me. If I’m taking a significant risk to participate in something that is not terribly valuable to me, then I should not attend.

Yet, I long to move back into regular social contact in my network. I evaluate the benefit of going to an indoor movie theatre to watch a movie when I have entertainment options at home. I evaluate the benefit of going to my gym knowing that exercise benefits both my physical health and mental health.  I also worry that gyms notoriously have poor ventilation that may expose me to people exercising vigorously without masks.

In my evaluation, I think of the relationship benefit of time I spend with my grandchildren against the risk that they may be exposed to COVID now that they have begun attending school and daycare. If the risks are similar, there is no question that I will give priority to the risk of exposure when spending time with grandchildren over the risk of exposure to socialize with people with whom I don’t have close relationships.

Important to any evaluation of risks and benefits is an acknowledgement of uncertainty regardless of the decision. It’s impossible to predict nor fully control exposure to the virus. The only solution is to make the best choice given the knowledge that I have.

In the process of decision making, the two little voices will keep the debate on COVID alive in my head. I’ll agonize about options. Sometimes, I’ll vacillate back and forth among choices. Regardless of any decision, dealing with uncertainty is an aspect of coping with this pandemic — and managing the chatter inside my head!







3 Replies to “The Two Little Voices and COVID Decisions”

  1. Thank you. I am glad your sister-in-law has tested negative, but you are exactly right – she is most likely suffering in ways we will never know. We’ll never know how much of my mom’s decline is due to the lock down (no visiting) and how much is due to natural aging. In any case, we do the best we can, and as you say, stay strong. I appreciate your compassion. Stay safe, and enjoy your day!

  2. These are tough decisions. I think of my mom who is 97. Right now, her facility is on lock down. I am glad they are keeping her safe. However, before we had 4 months of no visiting, and she went downhill. No other way to say it. Family visiting helps her. So, there is a risk to no visiting as well for her. Hopefully, this new lock down will not last long. Most of the time, in the dilemma of which you write, one of the two voices in my head will be a bit louder. Usually, it is the “no” voice, and I abide by that gut feeling. All we can do is the make the best decisions that we can, and enjoy our day as best we can. Thanks for your post!

    1. My goodness, the voices in your head must be screaming! My sister-in-law who has dementia lives in a facility in Maryland that is locked down. She has not had visitors since March. Our nieces (her daughters) Facetime with her when nursing staff have the time to support a connection. Like you, everyone in our family is worried about her decline. Although people on her floor have contracted COVID, she has consistently tested negative. Unfortunately, she may not have COVID but she is most likely suffering in ways we will never know. Stay strong!

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