Cognitive Dissonance in the age of COVID

I’m wondering how everyone is handling the incredible rise in COVID-19 cases in this country. We live in Texas, home to one of the worst areas of community spread currently in the country or the world. We’re facing a fall where our children cannot go back to school. Where we cannot resume social interactions for fear of worsening the spread.

Y’all. I’m tired of these four walls. Our family is planning a driving vacation to a private house in the near future. We’re so lucky to be able to do this and to do it in a way that feels safe. We are doing a drive that would normally take two days in one, we’re bringing all of our groceries, we’re staying in a private house rather than among others.

And still.

I feel guilt about traveling at all. All around us our neighbors have travelled and I’ve felt a combination of jealousy and judgment. I’m having a hard time with the cognitive dissonance of it all.

Of course I feel sad that my children will have another disrupted school year, but at the same time I’ve loved the slower pace of our family’s life in the last four months. Cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the uniquely human ability to hold two competing and inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or values in your mind without settling on one. It is uncomfortable. It can make us indecisive.

A quality I’ve noticed has grown worse lately. Even a decision about what to eat for dinner becomes overwhelming because as much as I know we need to eat, I don’t know what I want to eat when every day feels so much the same as the day before.

I am also feeling intense shame re-reading these words because I know that these are privileged dissonances to hold. For essential workers and those for whom work is essential for survival the cognitive dissonance that they have to hold is much more tragic – the desire to live competes with the desire to survive. The family’s need to pay their bills competes with the desire to stay healthy and a part of the family for a long time to come.

I feel intense shame and guilt that we, as one of the richest countries in the world, have not been able to solve this dissonance for people. That we have proven so unwilling to give up our comforts to keep others safe.

And so I return to my own cognitive dissonance. To travel right now is inherently selfish. It is a luxury that I do not need. But to change venues right now also feels necessary to stave off the loss of energy and motivation that comes from feeling trapped.

We are not trapped, we have been choosing to stay home. But through travel I often find improved mental health, improved family relationships, improved energy and motivation.

And so, we travel but try to do it in the safest way we can in order to resolve the dissonance and the discomfort it brings. To do something that your values tell you is selfish ie., bad feels, well, bad. We have to resolve the dissonance either by doing something different or convincing ourselves that what we are doing is not so bad. As a person who tries to be mindful about my choices, this is a tough one to resolve.

So we are going in a way that feels less bad. I wish it could feel good and I could be totally at peace, but I think that discomfort is important because it makes me check my behaviors. It makes me curb the impulse that many Americans seem to be giving in to and to say I’ll be fine. The truth is that we are likely to be fine. But we don’t want to make those around us not fine. So we’re monitoring symptoms, avoiding contact with others now and will avoid contact with others there. We wear our masks and maintain our distance.

But I probably won’t be posting pictures from restaurants because we have agreed not to go to any. I was disappointed with this because there are some great restaurants where we’re going. But, I know that looking at a different four walls is worth it for us, and taking precautions lessens the guilt to a point where I’m hopeful that we can at least enjoy the trip for what it is. A chance to look at four different walls.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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