THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A PANDEMIC AND HOW WE CAN KEEP MENTALLY WELL
It is difficult to imagine that I would even be researching a subject such as how to cope in a global pandemic, and the psychology behind why we have adopted certain behaviours, which can’t easily be explained away.
But here were are, in a state of lockdown whereby our fear of an invisible and life threatening virus is our new reality. When we are faced with the question of whether we are safe or not, it is difficult to put into words what ‘fear’ is. Humans have a tendency to catastrophise when fearful. This stems from our primal skill for survival of the worst-case scenario.
We will view each cough, sneeze or shortness of breath as a danger, We will wonder how many hand rails, door knobs, and lift buttons have been touched by others. And it will make us fearful and suspicious of others, and whether they have the virus and have touched our communal areas. This suspicion may spread to whether enough is being done, are we being told the truth by our government, are the media spreading false news?
We might become suspicious that other people are stockpiling unnecessary items and that we might go short because of their greed.
As we try to make sense of what is happening we might then move to trying to rationalise our behaviours. An unfortunate by product of this is that we might inadvertently shun frontline workers, as we worry they might pass us the virus. People might view it that it is God’s judgment of us as a race and the way in which we are treating this planet. And this might feel rational in times of such extreme global anxiety.
But, if we were to look at this in a rational and not fear based way, whilst we have greater access to antibiotics and childhood immunization, we still do not have any control over nature. Epidemics have always existed and they have never been as controlled and contained as quickly, and with so few fatalities as they are today. What would have been seen as a common occurrence maybe less than a century ago, is now deemed to be unnatural.
Now is the time to really embrace the frailty of life and aim to live in a more meaningful life with more purpose, and hope for the future.
I believe that most people are inherently good and have good intentions. But through the use of social media, we run the risk of being bombarded with too much negative information for us to remain mentally well. I know that social media has a positive space for people who are isolated, but in these times, the very people we connect with could be the people spreading news of a perceived catastrophic situation.
We can break down the kind of information being shared into three main categories. There is the scientific information, social stories and issues related to spreading the disease. People tend to gravitate mostly to human interest stories and extreme behaviour stories, such as panic buying for example. But this is unhelpful because these are stories, they are not based on scientific fact and they incite people to feel fear and suspicion.
HOW TO KEEP MENTALLY WELL
So how do we keep ourselves safe through the use of social media during this outbreak?
· Stick to the facts. Understand how we as individuals and as a society can stay safe. Don’t allow this biological outbreak to become a mental health outbreak
· Recognise that every day tasks use up more energy during this time. Put to one side the jobs that don’t need doing and spend more time practicing self care.
· Identify what you can control and what you cannot control, let go of it.
· Recognise when you are catastrophising. For example, ‘there is a chance I might get the virus but it is highly unlikely that I will’.
· I f you feel able to, engage in calming activities such as online yoga, mindfulness and meditation.
· Turn your screen off for several hours of the day and engage in things that bring you pleasure.
· Find a friend who is level headed at this time that you can go to if your anxiety gets too much.
· Listen to facts and be clear in telling people that you want to hear nothing about the virus unless it is from an official and verifiable source.
Let’s get through this by keeping ourselves safe and following the guidelines. And take a moment to listen to the peace and tranquillity of nature before the noise returns, as it inevitably will.