Pandemic: Paranoia or Preparedness?

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  • September 2, 2014

Fear is part of life and we are lucky that it exists. Fear warns us of dangers and gives us a much needed adrenaline boost to be able to take physical action in a crisis. Fear also tells us when we are in a potentially dangerous situation that we may wish to avoid. Our evolutionary response to fear is “fight, flight, freeze or faint” and we can even see it in nature such as talking about “the deer in the headlights”.

However, what about the mass marketing of fear for media ratings? There is a difference between preparedness for a crisis, or potential crisis, and feelings that we have become helpless victims.

According to many media sources all teenagers are on drugs, in gangs and have weapons, to only give one ridiculous example of how we tend to emphasize and sensationalize the negative. And of course we all remembered how life, or at least all computers, were supposed to end on New Year’s 2000.

Our response to the latest crisis can help us not only put the current influenza crisis in perspective. Let’s start with the word pandemic, defined by Webster’s as “occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population”. While serious, pandemic is not a synonym for Armageddon.

Some tips for managing anxiety in stressful times include:

  1. Keep situations in perspective. It is a positive thing that governments are using foresight to plan for the worst case scenario. Being prepared for the worst does not mean it will come true, it only means we are prepared. Think of much of what is going on like the fire drills (or for some of us the nuclear bomb drills) we used to have in school.
  2. Be informed. Find sources of information you trust such as the Health Canada website (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index-eng.php). As most crises are rapidly evolving situations, gather information at regular intervals in order to help you distinguish facts from rumours. Be wary of unsubstantiated rumours, which can be upsetting and may deter you from taking appropriate action.
  3. Maintain a hopeful outlook. Public health agencies around the globe are working on identifying outbreaks of the illness and to ensure the availability of the best medical care to those who are sick. Throughout the centuries, people have survived difficult life circumstances and gone on to live fulfilling and productive lives. There is no reason why this situation cannot be similar. Limit worry and agitation by lessening the time you and your family spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage.
  4. Stay healthy. A healthy lifestyle—including proper diet and exercise—is your best defense against any disease threat. Adopting hygienic habits such as washing your hands regularly will also minimize your exposure to all types of germs and disease sources. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to make better decisions and deal with the flu’s uncertainties.
  5. Build resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, threats or significant sources of stress. Draw on skills you have used in the past that have helped you to manage life’s adversities and use those skills to help you manage your emotions during new challenging times.
  6. Have a plan. Think about how you might respond if the flu were discovered in your area. You may want to stock up on non-perishable foods in case officials recommend staying home, explore options for working from home, and caring for sick family members, and establish an emergency family communication plan.
  7. Explore how you might spend your time if schools or businesses are closed. Working out some of these scenarios in advance can lessen your anxiety.
  8. Communicate with your children. Discuss the flu with honest and age- appropriate information. If your children have concerns, addressing those together may ease their anxiety and distress. Parents can also help allay distress by focusing children on routines and schedules that remain unchanged despite any changes due to flu preparations. Remember that children will observe adults behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during this time.
  9. Keep connected. Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality, and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. If officials have recommended limiting your social contact to contain an outbreak, you can stay connected via e-mail and telephone.
  10. Seek additional help. If you have intense feelings of anxiety or hopelessness or are having trouble performing your job or other daily activities, a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can help you develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward. Your Association member benefits provides you with free, professional, confidential assistance province wide. CHVBV Registered Psychologists can be contacted at 1-888-424-0126 province wide or 780-424-0123 in the Edmonton Area. We also have many tip sheets you can read, copy and use on our website www.chvbv.ca.

Dr. Stephen Carter, Registered Psychologist