CoVid-19: What fear of a pandemic does to our brains

The Big Story


I get anxious sometimes about my health and about the health of my loved ones. I worry about people getting sick. A lot of us do that and a lot of us. Don't talk about it then. A scary virus takes the world by storm and all of a sudden. Almost everyone is at least a little worried. It might not be enough to make us Canada but it is a constant low level of bad news rattling around in our heads. Can the people who worry anyway? Well as you know if you're one of them or as you might imagine if you're not it can be a lot tougher on Kovic nineteen may be a respiratory disease but before it even gains a foothold in candidate. It's messing with some of our minds and I'll be honest with you again. I think the best way to fight that is with knowledge not knowledge of who has the disease and where they are and how many more cases today but with some information about what all those headlines and numbers. I do inside our heads. So what is the psychology of a pandemic? What happens in our brain when we absorb all of this. And how can we prepare ourselves to keep calm? When it seems like much of the world is close to panicking. I'm George Keith Rawlings. This is the big story. Dr Steven Taylor is a professor of clinical psychology at U B C. He is also the author of a Book. The psychology of a pandemic. Thanks for joining. Dr Taylor Welcome. Can you first just start by answering the question that I think I've been worried about a lot lately. Which is how well is my brain working in the middle of all of this news about cove in nineteen and how outbreaks are inevitable. Because I feel off kilter it's interesting. It's a rapidly evolving situation with a lot of uncertainties and we have vivid media depictions of just recently oh stools depleted of groceries and so forth and we need to Ask Yourself. How accurate is that a depiction of the reality of the situation? So here well is your brain working. Well it's difficult to say because we have a whole lot of information being delivered to us but yet on the other hand great deal of uncertainty about what. The situation is and how best to respond. What happens on a macro level within a community when fears like this start spreading If you're on. The titanic and everyone starts running to the large boats probably not going to think too much about it. You're just gonNA start running as well and that's just sort of a situation where people have started panic buying and all the people have heard about this without giving too much thought and started to copy that same behavior so or macro level. That's what has been happening And so I think it's important for people to consider the impact of their own behavior on other people. Fear is contagious. If people see you acting Afr- way they might become frightened as well. What am I missing there when something like that happens and I see people running to the store or I see images of people buying ca bottles and bottles of water and then I do it to what process am I just somehow not getting. It's the classic marketing strategy where you create a sense of scarcity and Hood Gency and that's been used in marketing to sell US goods but it's also happening here. Nationally with this panic Boeing. So that's what's happening. People are getting the idea that foodstuffs toiletries medicines are scarce and they need to get out urgently and then the situation becomes snow able by vivid images on social media and other media of depleted shows which amplifies the sense of scarcity and then people he'd news reports of price gouging or they've been rare reports of fessel looting those things like a whole thing's toilet paper and that further amplifies the sense of scarcity and urgency and all of those things can amplify purchasing related anxiety. So tell me about some of the mistakes that we do know about and that we've worked to correct and maybe just start even with the name of this virus. Why did we settle on Cove Ed? Nineteen we learned. Mistakes of the past previous pandemics have been cooled things so I flew or Hong Kong flu swine flu. Avian Food needs to be really careful about naming diseases off to people places things because of the full it can have in the case of naming outbreak softer regions. It can create problems with discrimination. You name an outbreak after animals that could lead to needless culling of of livestock and so forth. So you needed name that on the one. Hand conveys the urgency. We called this thing coming. You need to cool A little bit like a really bad flu. That is not going to convey the level of urgency so the public needs to know that this is something to be taken seriously but it can't have any of the fear mongering that leads to discrimination or harm of animals so that was the thinking and I think the label covered nineteen. I think it was a good decision. Is there a similar a line of thinking behind whether or not to use the term pandemic? Because that's been hotly debated recently. I believe so. Yes pandemic the would pandemic Kyle soppe scary images of the Spanish flu with Harrison's holding off bodies with hospitals stacks with sick people so I'm assuming that whol being very careful about whether a win to US would pandemic the problem. There is the diff. There's no firm definition of a pandemic and earned fuzzy vague and health authorities like the. Who they need to have the trust of the public because if the public stuff didn't trust health authorities. They're not going to follow the guard lines and so people. Who they woke refund line between understanding a problem is studying it. It's very difficult and for some people that seem. That seem that the. Who's dragging your feet with regard to whether or not to announce the pandemic so it's A. It's a tricky situation. But many people saying that full intents and purposes this is a pandemic right now but one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you about the psychology behind. This is as I kind of mentioned off the top. I'm one of those people that it doesn't take much to get me worried about my health and the health of those around me so when something like this happens obviously my brain goes into overdrive and one of the things you discusses the the term worried. Well which I'm interested in that's Interestingly I it's the in in some cities are having news announcements on the radio. That if you're feeling sick do not go to the hospital. Do not go to the. Er unless you have to be symptoms This was a problem in the two thousand nine H. One one flu pandemic where there are reports of hospital. Ers being overwhelmed with worried. Well patients thinking they had pandemic flu. When in fact they had. Minor costs the sniffles. And there's a concern that this will happen this time around with call nineteen so someone has cough or fever. Apparent has a CIA. Who has a cough fever like? Might misinterpret that thinking that is an infection recalled the nineteen and take themselves with their child to the ER. Everyone did that for every mile. I omen he would overwhelm the healthcare system So that's a big concern. Now that's not to trivialize anxiety about one's health that's an important issue But it's important that people get educated about the tendency to misinterpret bodily signs. We'll sensations and and and this is gonNA happen with covered. Nineteen people will be misinterpreting coughs. Fevers is signs of possible infection. So they need to be Mindful of that. What is it about a virus like this? That makes us do that. Because again you know I get sniffles and colds. People around me get them all winter and they could easily be misinterpreted as signs of the flu or whatever but it doesn't bother me to the same extent and I think a lot of people feel that way but what it is here is it's unknown. There's no vaccine. It's not even though he's not F- our spread there have been many main factions and many deaths and the other thing is the sheer exposure to news. That people have received about this so if I develop a fever because I've heard so much about covered on the first thing that's going to pop into my mind is oh what if. I'm infected with the current ivars. It's partly it's cooled the availability heuristic. It's partly due to you. Know the amount of exposure. You've had to something right. What about the other end of the spectrum people who because we all know some of them who are just convinced that they won't get it right or if they do they'll be fine equally worrying for different

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