March 24, 2021

When Can We Start Saying Yes?

Vaccines and mandate-liftings feel great. But we somehow thought there’d be a designated day when we’d all dance out into the ticker-taped streets. Without a "you are now free to move about the cabin" announcement, when can we start saying yes?

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Vaccines. Mandate-liftings. Scaled reopenings. All of these things are great and long wished for.

But we were kind of thinking there'd be a bell, or something. A hard deadline. A day when we'd all dance out into the ticker-taped streets and make out with strangers in Times Square.

Without a "you are now free to move about the cabin" announcement, how will we know when it's okay for grandparents to visit? To fly to that wedding? To toss our masks once and for all?

When is it okay to start saying yes?

Our listener Heather put it this way:

I think seeing a light at the end of the tunnel can be unsettling. We've been living in this weird way for a year now. And as much as it seems crazy, we've gotten used to it.

Psychologists call the stress this is making us feel the “third-quarter phenomenon.” For people forced to endure long stretches of isolation– astronauts, Arctic explorers, submarine sailors– the most difficult part, regardless of the length of the assignment, has been proven to be about 75% of the way through, precisely when the end of the assignment first comes into distant focus.

As things start to open up and some of us don't feel ready, or wonder if the world is ready, it's a new source of stress that we were saved from when we were all apart.

Past scientists and astronauts who suffered from the “third-quarter phenomenon" were advised to refocus on their mission- why they were doing what they were doing, and the great worth of seeing it through. Seems like great advice for the rest of us. Focusing on the mission might be what will get us through this last part of the tunnel.

Here are links to writing on the topic that we discuss in this episode:

Tara Law for Time: We're in the Third Quarter of the Pandemic. Antarctic Researchers, Mars Simulation Scientists and Navy Submarine Officers Have Advice For How to Get Through It

Robert Bechtel and Amy Berning: The Third-Quarter Phenomenon: Do People Experience Discomfort After Stress Has Passed?

Nathan Smith: The third-quarter phenomenon: the psychology of time in space

"Beautiful City" from Godspell (1973)

"Brand New Day" from The Wiz (1978)

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