Taking online Tai Chi lessons and maintaining a regular practice could help combat a newly-identified phenomenon called COVID-19 “caution fatigue” by helping to lift your spirits, reduce harmful physical effects of stress and anxiety, and contributing to a clearer, more focused mind. Fortunately, technologies such as Zoom and other online platforms have made it possible to take Tai Chi online.
A large number of people are heading into late summer feeling that their entire year has been filled with isolation, social-distancing, missing out on family events, stress, and anxiety.
With no real end in sight to the pandemic, many feel drained, stressed, angry, and lonely.
All of this can cause a certain numbness to set in. Slowly, a lack of motivation and diligence to safety procedures and accommodations can begin.
Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has given this phenomenon the name “caution fatigue.” Professor Gollan based her conclusion on her 15 years of research on decision-making, anxiety, and depression.
What is caution fatigue?
Caution fatigue can be dangerous, especially as COVID-19 still presents a very real risk, with neither a vaccine to protect against it nor an effective treatment at this time.
Gollan likened caution fatigue to a battery. “You could consider caution fatigue to be similar to a AA battery. Initially, you may have been energized and positively focused on following pandemic safety behavior. But as the virus has continued on, you may start to focus on the negative and feel physically or mentally depleted.”
She went on to say, “Our lives are defined by our habits and routines, and thus, are hard to change. They connect us to a sense of normalcy and it is important to maintain a semblance of your previous schedule so as to not lose sight of your health goals. The things we miss, like playing and exercising, can still be rewarding but need to be redefined to meet pandemic safety guidelines.”
“People are tired of COVID. A lot of people at the beginning of this experience had an adjustment disorder because of acute stress,” stated Dr. Collin Reiff, a psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Reiff also hypothesized that cognitive dissonance might play a part in those who find themselves having a more lax attitude toward recommended safety precautions.
How do depression, loneliness, and stress contribute to caution fatigue?
Professor Gollan shared that “Emotions such as loneliness, depression or anxiety can blur our judgment on important safety-based decisions. Sadness is a common feeling in situations of dire circumstance and can produce problems in motivation, concentration and energy. Taking precautions for yourself or others seem like daunting tasks and could be ignored to cope with your situation.”
So what can we do to offset caution fatigue?
One way to help ward off caution fatigue is to make sure you are doing things in your life that give you physical, emotional, and spiritual energy while not compromising safety. This will contribute to a sense of normal routine while continuing to adhere to safe distancing, recommended to help combat the pandemic.
Professor Gollan commented: “Consider the value of being a good member of collective society, preserving health for yourself and family. It’s value-driven behavior and has an ultimate reward in caring for others and yourself.”
What can we do to lower the stress response?
In the same article, Dr. Ring suggests the following science-based strategies.
- Engage in gratitude practices
- Create a routine of regular, physical movement
- Incorporate mind-body practices
- Feed your Zen with healthy foods.
How does constant stress affect our bodies?
An article by Northwest University discusses the effects of constant stress on the body. Below are a couple of examples mentioned.
Professor Gollan tells us, “Fear and stress can feel scary and raw. All the systems of the body are affected by the stress-hormone cortisol, including the brain, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract.”
Dr. Melinda Ring, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, stated “The human nervous system functions on a continuum between our sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems. A balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity is critical for our long-term physical and psychological health.”
Where does online Tai Chi fit in?
Stress, depression, and anxiety—as well as the simple reality of aging—are associated with increases of sympathetic nervous system activation.
Tai chi is a mind-body exercise integrating diaphragmatic breathing into body motions. The slow, methodical, gentle movements have been proven in a growing body of scientific studies to decrease the effects of stress and anxiety and provide improvement of motor control, as well as psychological and cardiovascular function.
Read online Zoom Tai Chi class descriptions.
According to Dr. Ring, “Mind-body practices are the antidote to balance out the ongoing activation of our stress response by nurturing the parasympathetic side of our autonomic nervous system.”
“Conventional medical science on the Chinese art of Taijiquan now shows what Tai Chi masters have known for centuries: regular practice leads to more vigor and flexibility, better balance and mobility, and a sense of well-being. Cutting-edge research from Harvard Medical School also supports the long-standing claims that Tai Chi also has a beneficial impact on the health of the heart, bones, nerves and muscles, immune system, and the mind.” The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind (Harvard Health Publications).
Is it possible to learn Tai Chi online?
Yes! With our Covid-19 pandemic environment, engaging in a Tai Chi practice safely and remotely is critical. Fortunately, there are a variety of virtual Tai Chi lessons available using several different technologies, Zoom, LinkedIn, Facebook Live and others
Some classes focus on very simple movements for those who are seeking a very basic practice with a minimal learning curve. Others focus on martial applications—digging deep into the self-defense aspect of Tai Chi Chuan. And some are an approachable balance of physical and mental challenge, taught with an emphasis on relaxation, stress reduction, and increasing balance and flexibility.
The key is to find an instructor whose teaching is well suited to your goals and personality. Also, consider the platform being used for online Tai Chi. Some platforms deliver more of an experience similar to watching an instructional DVD or webinar. Others strive to replicate the experience of attending a live in-person class with classmate and instructor collaboration in an online meeting style environment.
What if I have questions?
If you have specific questions about online Tai Chi classes, feel free to reach out!
Online Tai Chi class descriptions and registration.