Why It’s Hard To Make Critical (Or Any) Decisions Right Now

​​I have a few friends who work in grocery stores. They are commenting now about the people putting them in undue risk by coming to the grocery store several times a week, loitering in the isles, and socializing during stay-at-home orders.

My dad is one of those people who goes out more than they should. I’m feeling powerless to stop him. I’ve told him to let me know what he needs and that I’d find a way to get it to him. I had toilet paper delivered to him while I was away.  Technology, him, and I have never gotten along. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown him how to open an e-mail, send a picture, log into accounts online, download apps, etc. He doesn’t retain any of this information and requires me to show him over and over again. It’s been a struggle for a while now. I had given up on him learning new tricks. He really can’t stick with his old tricks, though.

He told me he needs to see the aisles to jog his brain about what he needs. I said, “That’s how you’ve always done it. I get that, but that’s not safe in the reality we live in.” I don’t have much influence on him. He tends to discredit and ignore me, but if he were to listen, I’d guide him in achieving a calm state of mind so that he can activate the salience network (thought to switch between activating and deactivating the default mode and central executive networks) and make more mindful decisions about what he needs beforehand. Then he could pass those needs along to me so that I could find a way to get them to him without him putting his and other lives at risk.

We are all experiencing grief and shock in the midst of changes to our daily lives. We are all worried about our current or future health and wealth. And we all revolt at how some, especially loved ones, are taking risks that put them and other loved ones at risk.

The number of people who are grieving actual loss of life will grow. I’ve experienced with my clients the grief that a job loss can bring. It’s the same cycle, and, like losing someone beloved, it needs to be acknowledged and processed. Everyone will do this at different paces and at different times. Everyone has varying levels of resilience. Surely, many of us will come out of this with greater resilience if we don’t succumb to our feelings of grief and worry.

In the meantime, my hope is that the more you know and understand grief, the more compassion and grace you can extend. It’s unlikely that you will be successfully influential to stop someone from taking risks by shaming them or instigating a conflict.

These stages are not clean. People will weave in and out of these stages, jump around, and be in a couple at the same time. Some may also have lucid moments where the emotions have calmed, and the mind is thinking clearly and making conscious decisions.

These days, I advise you to assume that everyone you see is experiencing grief, even if they haven’t lost anything yet. That’s because we actually have all lost something – plans, the ability to hug loved ones who don’t live with us, freedom to come and go as we please without worry, etc.

Here’s how you can recognize when someone is grieving. You can assume they are grieving and treat them with the utmost care, from a safe distance, of course.


People in shock will be the ones standing in the aisle without a list or a clue. (Those folks and the ones who have to read labels, which is a problem for us. We don’t want to touch things we won’t buy, but we have to check new items for a variety of ingredients our daughter can’t have.) Shock isn’t fight or flight; it’s more like being frozen.


You may be surprised to find that people you thought were level-headed and logical are believing conspiracy theories instead of accepting the truth. The truth, at this moment, may just be too hard to face. In this stage, people may take some risks that put not only them but others in danger, too.


It’s ironic because the workers lashing out at the people in grocery stores and other public places who are being careless are completely justified AND they are in their own process of grief. With this understanding, I let them vent for the most part. I’ve commented here and there asking people to extend grace, especially knowing that my father is most definitely on the list of people who should not be going grocery shopping, especially during busy times without gloves or a mask or sanitizer. He should be pre-planning his shopping needs, scheduling deliveries and staying put.


The government can’t take away the freedoms of all those spring breakers, the coronavirus challenge participants, or anyone who still believes that COVID-19 is just the flu. Some people insist on maintaining their freedom as an American to assembly, etc., and these folks may be in the bargaining stage. They’ll face their reality, only if they don’t have to lose X. They’ll stop visiting their vulnerable relatives and friends, but they won’t stop playing basketball. They’ll start getting their groceries by delivery, but they’ll keep gathering with their neighbors, who are all in the same boat as long as everyone washes their hands frequently and don’t touch. While these concessions may drive you back into anger, they are actually progressing.

You can help someone move more fully into compliance by making compliance feel better and offering alternatives. Instead of golfing, offer to order an at-home golf simulator game that can be played with friends. Instead of heading to your neighbor’s house for your usual happy hour, have a virtual happy hour in PJs.


It doesn’t always look like what you expect, especially when people are highly functional. It can look like getting easily agitated, lacking patience, avoiding communication or decision-making, sleeping more often, putting off exercise and chores, etc. Just because people have more time doesn’t mean they are accomplishing more. If you are here, try not to compare yourself to others and what they are accomplishing. Do what you can as you can and spend time meditating.


This is tricky, because, really, any degree of failure to fully comply risks exposure, illness, and death. All of the new protocols will feel wrong at first. Frame all of the compliance efforts as experiments. “See how this feels”… See how it feels to wear a mask. See how it feels to wave to a neighbor you’d normally hug or high five. See how it feels to not pet the dog. See how it feels to plan out your grocery list. See how it feels to have the groceries come to you.


The more resilient among us may be here already and are not understanding very well what’s taking others so long to come around.

We normally comfort those grieving with touch, which would induce the release of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. Now we have to find ways to use our imagination to do that if we don’t have people in our homes to hug. Remember Wilson from the movie Castaway? It may have seemed crazy, but it was a strong survival instinct that led Tom Hanks’ character to produce a friend. Grab a plant, a stuffed animal, a cardboard version of your father, etc. Luckily, we are still connected via the internet and cell phones, but we need to replicate the face-to-face interactions.

What you can do, since we’re all in this together:

Treat everyone as fragile.

Give each other grace. Assume we are all fragile, and that the more you induce a state of upset, the more likely you are actually inhibiting their ability to make wise decisions.

Well past this event I’m certain there will be a surge of PTSD cases and this won’t be just the people who have seen the worst of it on the front lines. Even people with comparatively lower levels of loss will struggle. Dismissing anyone’s loss by comparing it to the loss of others will only invalidate it; it won’t mitigate it.

If you see someone bucking the social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home mandates, you have a few options:

  • Allow the anger and accept it as your own grief stage
  • Assume there’s something you don’t know about their situation, or ask them non-confrontationally
  • Report them and let someone else deliver justice
  • Be part of the solution – Stores have designed aisles to be one-way, have added trashcans where shoppers kept putting used gloves, and have limited the number of shoppers in the store. So many are stepping up to make masks for people, deliver items to elderly neighbors, donate to charities, etc. What is within your power to do to help?
Achieve stillness

Like a pond being blown by the wind, the reflection will be distorted and blurry. When you allow your emotions to settle, you are better able to see problems and solutions more clearly. That doesn’t mean your emotions are wrong. What you resist persists. Spend 90 seconds really feeling those emotions, and even feeling gratitude for those emotions. Journal the thoughts that arise that keep you from achieving a peaceful mind. Then, try meditating.

There are many group meditations and prayer groups on Facebook. There are also a lot of great apps for guided meditation. I recommend Insight Timer.


There are things you can control and there are things you can’t. The more you try to exert control over that which you have no control, the more stress you create in your life. The wisdom to know the difference can come from stillness, even though action feels better. Sometimes action is just artificial control. Shift your focus to the present moment and that which you have influence over.

Having a hard time deciding your next career step? Work with someone who understands and appreciates the emotional journey you are on. Schedule a consultation now.

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

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