In the age of COVID-19, it feels as though we’re living in a different kind of reality—one that’s more heightened and alarmist. This shift is evident in many aspects of life, particularly in how the media and government bodies communicate risk, whether it’s through storm warnings, declaring emergencies, or other means.”
Let’s consider the example of storms. Before the pandemic, winds reaching 90 km/h were viewed as noteworthy but manageable. Nowadays, these same wind speeds are presented as significantly more dangerous, eliciting a response that often seems out of proportion to the actual risk involved. We’ve weathered many storms like these in the past and got through them without the current level of panic and fear now associated with them.
Or take the case of heat warnings. A few years ago, a sweltering day might need to reach temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius to warrant public caution. Now, warnings are being issued when the thermometer hits 28-30 degrees. Has our biology changed overnight? Is 30 degrees now as intolerable as 35 used to be?
Of course, caution can be a good thing. Safety measures save lives, and it’s crucial to be prepared for various emergencies. However, one must ask: at what point does precaution turn into overreaction? When does a heightened sense of reality start to distort our collective understanding of what constitutes a real threat?
There are a few potential dangers to this state of heightened alert. First, there’s the risk of “alert overuse,” where constant warnings lead people to become desensitized and less likely to respond appropriately in genuinely high-risk situations. Second, these elevated states of alert can have real psychological impacts, increasing levels of public anxiety and stress.
The disheartening, yet revealing, aspect is that a segment of the population actually seems to want this kind of treatment and enjoys being coddled like children. The government is all too happy to oblige them in this regard. In many ways, we’ve evolved into a nanny state where overreaction and heightened fear are considered preferable to being underprepared. We’ve lost the ability to prepare in the way people did in days of old, who were often ready well in advance because they knew that challenges were inevitable. This stands in stark contrast to today’s approach.
So, while vigilance is key, it’s essential that our caution is proportional to the risks we face. If every routine event starts to look like a crisis, we risk losing our ability to respond effectively when genuine emergencies arise.
In this new reality we’re navigating, it’s more important than ever to differentiate between justified caution and undue panic. Increasingly, our default setting for almost everything seems to have become ‘panic,’ as we await instructions from government officials on what to do next. Common sense appears to have gone out the window.