Mental Health and Covid-19: Hitting ‘Surge Capacity’ and Vacation Risks

After feeling energized in the early stages of the pandemic, science journalist Tara Haelle hit a wall. As she describes in a powerful new story for Elemental, suddenly she was unable to work, clean, exercise, or even play with her kids. She had been operating on “surge capacity” — a set of adaptations that humans can draw on in acutely stressful situations — but even surge capacity has limits. “When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed,” psychologist Ann Masten, PhD, told her. “But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?”

One way to cope with feelings of depletion is to take a vacation. These days, of course, travel options are limited by concerns about health, finances, and childcare, but another big risk that vacationers often don’t foresee is their own behavior. As Ashley Abramson writes in Elemental, entering vacation mode often comes with a loss of inhibition, rational thinking, and vigilance about health and safety. While we may all need a break, the coronavirus does not.

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