The global community continues to struggle to contain COVID-19 or coronavirus, a potentially dangerous viral strain that has affected many parts of the world. Under a microscope, coronaviruses have the appearance of a crown, hence corona. Although this kind of virus tends to target the respiratory systems of bats and other mammals, scientists were surprised by the fact that it was able to target humans as well.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China last year. Since then, the virus rapidly spread across the world. It has affected nearly 200 countries and territories with a total of 422,566 cases worldwide. As of current writing, Worldometers.info, a website that provides counters and real-time statistics for diverse topics, reported that China is the most affected country with 82,171 cases, followed by Italy (96,176), the US (54,808), Spain (42,058), Germany (32,991), and Iran (24,811). Reported deaths have already reached more than 18,000 while recovered cases are 108,388.
Due to the rapid increase, many countries and cities were forced to order a total lockdown, ordering citizens to stay home. Businesses and cultural institutions continue to close. Many governments have issued travel alerts for China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, and Japan. Hospitals are facing shortages of equipment and space due to the influx of patients. Many people resorted to panic buying, leaving the poor with almost nothing.
A wave of prejudice against people of Asian ancestry is also reported in many parts of the world. Reports of people avoiding Chinese restaurants and harassing Asian people have circulated the news and on social media. Racist comments have continued to identify Asian bodies as the source of contagion, contributing to their stigmatization.
Fear and Anxiety During a Pandemic
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 pandemic, signaling that the virus has reached more and more countries. Thus, it’s understandable why people succumb to uncertainty and anxiety as they fear their health. Some people are even more stressed about how they will get to survive the outbreak, considering they have limited resources.
“The current crisis is not the only stressor most of us are dealing with. If your dog just died, you lack economic resources and necessary social services or your partner is leaving you — Well, the current world crisis will obviously hit you harder than if everything in your life was otherwise moving along swimmingly,” Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author, said.
Sometimes, our brains always assume the worst, over-personalize threats, and jump to conclusions. This creates a fear of uncertainty, where people are not sure if they would survive or the world would heal. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, uncertainty can cause a person with tremendous anxiety. Our brains tend to make up all sorts of untested stories hundreds of times a day because, to the mind, uncertainty equals danger. This instantly arouses our stress levels.
When we fear things, there’s a high possibility that other people would also fear the same things. This can be explained by a social phenomenon called “emotional contagion” where people's emotions and related behaviors can trigger similar emotions and behaviors in others. A 1993 study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science described it as the "tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person's and, consequently, to converge emotionally."
This phenomenon explains mass panic attacks that can happen in sports events, music concerts, or other public gatherings. Once fear is triggered in the crowd, there is no time or opportunity to verify the sources of terror. As a result, people tend to succumb to that fear first before doing anything else. The fear travels from one to the next, infecting each individual as it goes. The anxiety that people feel can make you anxious as well.
According to Fast Company, the world's leading progressive business media brand with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, leadership, and design, fear contagion does not require direct physical contact with others. A huge factor in effectively spreading fear is how media distributes terrifying images and information.
How to Cope With COVID-19 Anxiety
Steven Soderbergh's 2011 thriller “Contagion” is a perfect representation of the world’s crisis today. According to CBC, the flagship nightly news and current affairs program from Canada's public broadcaster, the film portrays a world decimated not only by a virus but also by a whole set of social, emotional, psychological and economic ills that come along with it. This includes erratic market fluctuations, supply chain disruptions, fake news, medical supply hoarding, rampant xenophobia, and more. All of these combined can cause extreme anxiety for people.
Feelings of worry and unease can be expected during these times. Thus, it is important that we learn to manage our stress or anxiety. One of the things you can do is to limit constant media coverage about the pandemic. It’s perfectly fine to watch, read, or listen to news stories about it hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting. People should also seek out factual information from reliable sources to avoid encountering misinformation.
“My advice for coping is the same for all the scary events and possibilities that life brings: Go for the facts — even difficult ones — because anxiety escalates and fantasies flourish in the absence of information,” Dr. Lerner said.
According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, Dr. Lerner suggests that people must be vigilant rather than underreacting. We must be proactive by following basic hygiene principles, which includes washing your hands frequently; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying at home if you begin to feel unwell until you fully recover, and seeking medical care early if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties.
Aside from following basic hygiene principles, it’s also important to focus on taking care of ourselves. In this way, we can assure ourselves that we are doing the best we can to contain the virus. “While we can’t drive fear off with a big stick, we can learn ways to calm ourselves down and find a little peace of mind. Action is powerful, even if we start with just one thing,” Dr. Lerner added.