The Pandemic and “Third-Quarter Syndrome”
With infection rates falling and vaccination rates rising nationwide, many of us are beginning to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Yet, at the same time, many individuals are also reporting increased feelings of anxiety and vulnerability. Others indicate heightened irritability among family members and with colleagues, especially those who have returned to at least limited time in public workplaces.
Actually, this phenomenon has been noted and reported on previously by people like Antarctic researchers, submarine crew members, astronauts, and others who spend extended periods of time in isolated surroundings. Informally dubbed “third-quarter syndrome,” it often occurs when persons are nearing the end of their period of isolation. A recent article in Time Magazine illustrates the feelings described by various people living in extremely isolated situations, including the strategies they have developed for managing the stress and anxious feelings that come with “third-quarter syndrome.”
“One of the things I look for is dramatic changes in people’s habits,” says Pedro Salom, a veteran of more than a dozen deployments at the McMurdo Station research base in the Antarctic. “If somebody has been going to the gym every day at 6:30 a.m., and usually gets to lunch exactly at 11:45, and that person suddenly misses the gym, or starts taking food to go or doesn’t show up for lunch at all, that’s a serious flag in my mind.” Salom is a major advocate of speaking up and asking for help. “Early intervention and engagement is much better than then trying to make up for lost time later on, when somebody gets in a really bad place,” he says.
Feelings of isolation, boredom, monotony, and near-constant background anxiety have become familiar to millions around the world during the current pandemic, and now that we are beginning to sense “the beginning of the end” of the worldwide health crisis, many of us are feeling much like those described by Salom and others in similar situations. “The psychological and social experience of monotony, sensory deprivation, social isolation, and proximity with others, is very similar” to that likely being experienced by people isolating during COVID-19, according to Nathan Smith, a University of Manchester researcher who studies persons who live in extreme settings. “For some people, this third-quarter phase may be really challenging.”
“By the last week of any long-term mission,” says Matt Kilby, a former US Navy lieutenant who served aboard the nuclear submarine USS Florida, “the crew tended to get testy. It’s almost so well known, that if someone blows up on you, it’s just like, ‘Hey, man, it’s like the last week, everyone’s like this right now.’ So everyone’s almost bonding over the fact that it’s that last week and that everybody’s grumpy.”
Like Pedro Salom in the Antarctic, Kilby and others suggest strategies for dealing with third-quarter syndrome. Interestingly, most of these measures, though offered by different individuals, share the common theme of focusing on completing the mission at hand. Perhaps, for those of us isolating as we approach the end of the pandemic, we can think of our mission as reducing the spread of the virus and keeping as many people from getting ill as possible. Those interviewed also suggest focusing as much as possible on the here and now and maintaining routines that allow us some semblance of control. They recommend finding and celebrating small, simple joys.
If you are feeling anxious—or even curious—about how your investments or other aspects of your financial plan are positioned as we go through this “third quarter” of the pandemic, we would love to answer your questions; please contact us. You can also read our recent article on the progress of the vaccination effort by clicking here.