CoVid-19: What fear of a pandemic does to our brains
They all start today's episode. By being honest 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 reasons the people who think that won't happen to them or if it does they'll be fine? They're the people who wash their hands. Who WANT SO FOS OSCILLATE? If they're infected they're actually the people who will spread infection to other people and there's been researched from previous outbreaks showing that indeed that does happen and unfortunately these individuals don't understand that although they might not be worried about infection they could be giving infection to people who could become seriously ill as a result. How do you find the proper level of maybe not the proper level of anxiety but the proper level of care to sort of walk that line between overreacting to symptoms but also being aware that you could be infecting others? It's a complex issue It depends in part on your situation. Your own health status the health status of loved ones. You elderly or medically frail than it would be reasonable to be worried about getting infected so it depends on that background situation but we also need to ask yourself well. And my following what the healthcare authorities are recommending or. Am I going overboard or my over responding or am I under responding and people need to ask themselves? How's that affecting Your Life Family members commenting that you seem excessively anxious or irritable about the outbreak and that would suggest Excessive amount of anxiety for example. How much of these thoughts and this worry can or maybe can't Be Mitigated by the way governments and Public Health Officials. Choose to communicate around. This is a really tricky situation because We live in an era where there's two way communication. It's not just governments delivering messages to us. But it's a speeding back messages through social media to other people in our community so challenge. The government's face is one of understating versus other studying. Each one is associated with problems. So it's very difficult particularly when there's a lot of uncertainty about things so warning people encouraging people to engaging protective measures without leading them to become overly anxious. That's great if you can do that. But on the other hand governments need to be seen as transparent they need to acknowledge uncertainties. And then do their many uncertainties around covered nineteen so it may be the case that we the people need to learn to accept their uncertainties in their lives and also learn to recognize that when there are important in people's Lodge Luma's will flourish and the health authorities have done well to address the major rumors but The general community need to be mindful that they will be rumors circulating about covered nineteen and we need to take them with a grain of salt. You know I wanted to ask you a little bit about things That ordinary people can do to kind of work with their worry about this and I know a little bit about cognitive behavioral therapy and and things around that and sort of examining the thoughts that you're you're instinctual impulses come from. I wonder how much of that applies here. Is there ways that people who are concerned about that can work with themselves building out workbooks around managing health things so that you can fun fact we we won some years ago but more specifically for Combat Nineteen? It's important to try and understand your thoughts and reactions. I you just automatically going with what everyone else is saying or stopping to think. What are the realistic risks? What realistically do I need to do? In terms of stockpiling what degree of risk in my will to tolerate in my lauch. And getting on that issue involves something cool. The intolerance of uncertainty and people who have a particular difficulty tolerating uncertainties they likely to worry excessively. They're gonNA panic buying and vice mosque so forth. In that case it can be helpful for people to remind themselves that every single day of the allies they deal with things that follow dangerous at this point in covered nineteen crossing the street or driving in. Your car is probably the most dangerous thing people do and people accept that. So point here is People need to accept that life is full of uncertainties in people do tolerate many uncertainties in their lives and the people will tolerate the learning to cope with the current outbreak. How much of this is exacerbated? By the way social media seems to reward the worst news. Because I know I've been seeing the majority of the coverage that I've been seeing of this. Virus comes from the hardest hit places in the places where hospital beds are stacked up by the dozens. Cetera ET CETERA. Right that's going to skew people's perception of reality. It's always see all these dramatic images of sick people scarcity's and so forth that is going to distort the way we see our own environment in which say in Vancouver tender right now. The risk is extremely low. But if always see these dramatic images that's going to the store after section and lead people to earn the estimate. The degree of threat is perhaps worth for people who are might be battling With this kind of anxiety to take a social media break in sort of rely more on the official news coming from the government or the mainstream outlets yes getting too much. So if you're anxiety is being ramped up often people who are anxious about their health engage. In checking behavior they will check the the media check social media with an attempt to reassure themselves would find themselves fight. Saif but that backfires and they end up feeling more anxious so in those cases it would be a good idea to give yourself a break from health related social media and to mall to what health authorities like the W. like Or Health Canada are recommending. And you can go to their website say. Who FOR EXAMPLE HAS Press briefings every day or two and which they provide authoritative information. If there was one thing that you could maybe have governments or or health authorities take into account in their communications That you're not seeing enough of right now. Is there anything there is? But it's a timing issue. When a vaccine is developed Tsukada nineteen this the big concern that many people and perhaps most people will not get vaccinated and this has happened in previous pandemics. The two thousand nine pandemic in Canada and elsewhere fuel half of the population decided to get vaccinated clearly. Yeah it was worse than other countries and clearly. contain a an outbreak if people aren't going to adhere to vaccination and this is something that's been cold it's been a euphemistic to MBA's cool vaccination hesitancy and in two thousand nineteen W.H. Show declared that of the top ten health. Fritz vaccination hesitancy was one of them. So this is GonNa be a big problem. That's GONNA come up. Maybe later this year and so governments. I would recommend that they get onto this problem early and stop talking. Having the discussion in Public Forum about vaccine the covered nineteen and the importance and start addressing discussing the issues vaccination hesitancy and often people declined to get vaccinated because they don't have correct information older heard about the new debunked link between vaccines and autism from Donald. Yeah so I think. We need to be proactive. And address that problem earlier. Rather than wait till we have a vaccine and have the problem with vaccination hesitancy and finally I guess For somebody WHO's been listening to this podcast and is now about to go on with the rest of their day but is is worried about the Stephan and the mounting uncertainty of one. It's coming in Canada. What's one thing that they should be doing or thinking about as they go forward Full well I guess carrying on as usual as best as you can as usual. Think about this information and some you can does you. Don't WANNA to bigger those of scary information about covered? Nineteen you WanNa stay informed so dosing that but doing your best to carry on with your life and your routine The same as you would normally do including doing what have the stress management activities that you would usually do. Thanks for joining us today. Dr Taylor that was very helpful. Thank you very much. Welcome Dr Steven Taylor author and professor of Clinical Psychology at UB. That was the big story if you'd like more from US including lots of episodes. That WON'T INDUCED PANIC. You can head to the Big Story. Podcast DOT CA. You can also talk to us on twitter if you are not taking a break from bad news on social media at the Big Story F. P. N. We can find us in your podcast. Feed on your favorite player apple or Google or stitcher or spotify. Pick your favorite leave us a rating. Leave us a review. Thanks for listening. I'm Jordan Heath Rawlings. Wash your hands and we'll talk tomorrow.