It’s no wonder anxiety in the United States is at an all-time high. Just a quick scan of the daily headlines can send your pulse racing and exaggerate everyday fears. News of the COVD-19 virus seems to be spreading faster than the common cold, with nonstop coverage inducing widespread panic.
- “Chinese man, 56, catches the killer coronavirus ‘within 15 SECONDS’ of standing next to an infected woman at a market” – www.DailyMail.co.uk
- “Tip of the iceberg”: What we know about the first Covid-19 death in the US” – www.QZ.com
It’s hard to remain calm and think clearly with the ceaseless barrage of information. The more aware we are of a risk, the more anxiety it causes, especially if we think it can happen to us.
When it comes to dealing with threats like the COVID-19, our minds are hardwired to react as if it’s the worst-case scenario happening right now. The terror of a new and lethal virus helped make the 2007 remake of the dystopian movie, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, so alluring.
The discovery of air-borne pathogens happened seconds ago in terms our lengthy existence on Earth. Even with all the knowledge we’ve gained, despite having access to actual facts about the COVID-19, there are great amounts of media attention seemingly meant to scare us. The truth is, many other viruses we come in contact with on a daily basis are much more dangerous. So why the panic?
From an evolutionary perspective, our keen threat scanning structure is a rather elegant and efficient system. Imagine it’s 300,000 years ago, our ancient great grandparents come upon their first wooly mammoth or saber-tooth cat. Humans have found themselves in similar situations for centuries since. When dealing with genuine matters of life or death, our brain’s ability to instantaneously hyper-focus is clearly beneficial.
Despite our interconnected, science-informed, modern era, we do not focus much differently than our prehistoric ancestors when we assess immediate risk. The actual numbers from the recent March 08, 2020, World Health Organization Situation Report finds 105, 586 confirmed COVID-19 cases resulting in 3,584 deaths worldwide. You have similar odds of winning the lottery.
What about concern for actual, more imminent threats much more likely to occur on a daily basis?
- During 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that, in the US alone there were 36,560fatal crashes. Globally, a shocking 1.35 million road traffic deaths occurred in 2018.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that during the 2017-2018 season “regular” influenza killed 61,099 in the U.S.
One major element the media is not keen on reporting is how many people recover from COVID-19. The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), now notes 62,373 cases are “recovered”.
How can we tolerate such an imbalance between the much more prominent, actual threats than the distant remote and highly unlikely? To prevent becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear, consider these factors.
- Sense of control: The more control we feel, the less we panic. Chronic hand washing and hand sanitizers make us feel we’re doing our best to battle the germs.
- Uncertainty: The more uncertainty there is about a risk, the greater our fear. Learning the facts can greatly reduce anxiety.
- Acute vs Chronic: New threats get more attention, while chronic exposure to even more serious threats decrease fear. We tend to get desensitized to repeated threats over time.
- Check the Source: Where are you getting information? Only trust the facts from reputable sources.
SARS, terrorism, Y2K, Anthrax…this is not our first rodeo with novel threats. While I’m not minimizing the importance of proper precautions, it’s just a matter of time before a new threat arises and the Coronavirus is just a distant memory. Keep perspective as each one comes along and let the facts help you keep anxiety in check.