In times like these with the Corona Virus dominating the news, it is important not only to think of the physiological consequences, but also about the psychological ones. I have looked up some psychological studies discussing fear and how it can be contagious. In this post I will not discuss the virus as much, but more the psychological consequences it can have and what we can do as a community to help each other.
When looking at news or information, try to be conscious of the way you feel. Are you picking up on fear and panic? Are you being influenced by external factors, situations and persons? Or are you becoming more aware of the situation, no matter how uncertain it is. I believe it is important to inform yourself, but also to take care of yourself. Fear can be contagious, but awareness and understanding can be calming and bring clarity.
‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less’
– Marie Curie
Our immune system is a defence mechanism of our body against intruding mechanisms. To function it requires energy. Experiencing a short period of stress can enhance the strength of our immune system, however, if we experience long-term stress it will weaken. This happens because our body wants to restore energy. Therefore, our immune system takes a step back, recovers, and is ready to function again.
Fear is a protective response to a real threat, something that exists and might be dangerous. The feeling of fear is evolutionary and helps us escape or fight danger. It has a strong reaction on our bodies and prepares us for danger. Now anxiety is something different. Anxiety is a response to a potential threat that may or may not occur. The difference is that anxiety has more to do with thinking about a threat which evokes a strong physical reaction as if that threat would truly exist.
This means that when we experience anxiety, we think about something fearful and dangerous and our body starts acting as if there is danger, preparing us to fight or flight. Anxiety is mostly cognitive/mental and people with anxiety tend to overestimate the risk of something bad happening. In contrary to people with a Depression, people with anxiety believe they can still cope with fear. However, they believe that there is danger everywhere. This is why most of the time they are in an alert state. You can imagine how exhausting this must be.
Worrying is like being in a negative thinking spiral about all the negative possibilities that could happen. It actually maintains a high level of anxiety. Being in a constant state of anxiety, can activate your immune system continuously. This will require much of your energy and eventually your body will decide to let your immune system take a step back. This allows your body to restore energy, but it also makes you more vulnerable.
‘We suffer more in imagination than in reality’
Currently we are living in a historic time with an uncertain future ahead of us. When something is uncertain it gives us a vague perspective. It leaves room for us to fill it in with our own interpretations and imagination. This ‘filling in’ is influenced by the way we feel, hence, if we feel frightened and scared, we might interpret this uncertain situation as a fearful one. When we start to feel fearful and we cannot get rid of that sensation, there are a couple of things we can do:
- Exercise: science shows us that long-term voluntary exercise benefits our health and reduces anxiety related behaviour.
- Gratitude: practicing gratitude helps you focus on positive things in your life, enhances positive memories, and motivates us to make grateful acts.
- Eat Healthy: eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects of stress on your body.
- Meditation: this not only helps you to get yourself into a calm state, it also helps you detach yourself from your surroundings and your own thoughts that might be causing you to stress.
- Mindfulness: practicing mindfulness, living in the here and now, reduces stress and enhances your health. Hence, it is a powerful way to create awareness of your surroundings and yourself.
I believe it to be important to inform yourself to provide clarity. Even talking about the subject might help, but we should not let fear influence us in such a way that we remain in a fearful state the entire time. Informing ourselves is helpful, because we can get information on how to take care of ourselves and others. It also brings understanding of the situation decreasing the uncertainty.
One thing that I find very helpful in life, but especially during a crisis such as this one, is to give yourself a purpose or a goal. I would like to end this blogpost with a question for you to think about. What skills, knowledge, and/or experience do you have that could contribute to your own and others wellbeing?