Coronavirus anxiety: a lesson from a psychologist with contamination OCD
April 27, 2020
Coronavirus epidemic is a fact. We need to be careful, but we also need to be rational. I am not an expert in epidemics and I have to admit it is not making me feel any better that so many people behave like they were.
I don’t know if there is exponential growth of people infected by Covid-19, but I am sure that we observe exponential growth of news about it. It is impossible to go on any social media platform without being bombarded with Covid-19. Most of this news is very questionable quality. I read articles that seem to be very professional and dressed up in graphs and numbers, but the use of language in these articles indicates a high level of anxiety of their authors. So I am asking myself: is someone so anxious capable of seeing facts impartially?
Who can we trust when everybody is talking about it and makes himself an expert? This information chaos and mass panic make us all anxious. The anxiety itself becomes a problem. It will bring on recession. It will cause more problems because anxious people make mistakes. It will also make the Covid-19 toll bigger, because when people are anxious, their cortisol level goes up and white cells count goes down, so it makes people less immune to the virus.
It is impossible to talk to anyone without touching a topic. It is impossible to go out and not to think about it as all places and shops become empty. I am a psychologist and this week all of my clients have talked about coronavirus. I am more worried about pandemic of fear than Covid-19. I have also a personal take on a problem. I am a psychologist, but also a person with contamination OCD. That is why I decided to share with you a few tips that I find very helpful while managing my own fear of infection:
Get informed but consider your bias
Covid-19 is very infectious, so most of us will get it sooner or later, but for most of people it is not deadly. The point is to slower the spread of the virus so there is enough of medical aid for all people who are sick. At the same time we must protect these who are vulnerable. So if you wash your hands (that you should do anyway), take care of old and sick people and self-isolate when you are sick, you are sensibly cautious. If you spend most of your time thinking about how not to get sick, not sleeping, you hurt your immune system and put yourself at risk.
Most of people die from heart issues and cancer, so many people die from car accidents, but you don’t think about it all day everyday. Why is it so different with coronavirus? Take some time to revise your habits: How often do you do sports? Do you wash your hands before you eat? Do you read ingredients on labels before you buy food? Do you respect speed limits? If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, but you keep obsessing about coronavirus, you don’t pay attention to threats the way they deserve. Revise your perspective and try to balance.
Remember that virus is contagious so is fear
One of the most disturbing thing for me as a person who tries to keep her contamination OCD in check is that now everybody is talking about infections as it was the end of the world. They do it the way that even I as a clean freak find ridiculous. I don’t say that Covid-19 is not a threat and that we should not be careful. I say that if there is a threat, you should get informed from reliable sources (which these days are hard to find as every media outlet fall prey to click-bait urge). You should prepare and act to solve a problem when it occurs. But you should do it once and you are not helping anybody talking about it all the time. You are not helping anybody telling people stories about your sick co-workers and neighbours. Talking to my clients last days I see that the fear of infection, that apparently is not only my problem, can unleash destructive site of our imagination. So don’t talk to others about infections unless it is going to help them!
Stay focus, stay well.
I hope I am understood well. I don’t want to say that Covid-19 threat is not real, or it doesn’t deserve attention and prevention measures. I don’t even say I am an expert in the field. I say that feeding your anxiety and spreading panic is going to make situation worse. One of the main thing to do when you struggle with anxiety issues is to refocus your attention. We cannot focus on everything and our attention span is limited. If you are obsessing about infection, you don’t pay attention to what is important. So think about what is important to you and try to focus on that. Worst case scenario: you get infected by Covid-19 and you die. Do you want to spend the last time of your life thinking about Covid-19? Eat well, sleep well, get rest, focus on good things. Switch off social media! This is all you can do to be as strong as you can to fight adversities in case they arise.
PS. If you need to talk about fear of infection with someone who knows the topic inside out, just drop me a line!