Updated: Mar 19, 2020
By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
Ever since the reports came out on the coronavirus, I've been feeling and hearing the same emotion echoed through every report: fear.
Our social media and news cycle model lives and breathes on it - if we are in fear, we will make rash decisions, react instead of act, and click on headlines and actually attempt to scroll through some content. Our brains are wired for this. We were bred to survive. As our brains developed in the early evolution of what we have today, the humans who had healthy 'fear centers', historically known as centered in our amygdala, were the ones who lived to see another day. If we didn't have fear, we would forget about dangerous predators, eat poisonous plants, and walk into deadly environments.
In today's world, we don't live in natural environments for the most part. We construct our environments, and they are changing constantly. The only predators we need to fear are other humans and the unseen micro-organisms attacking us from within; but they often don't play by the same rules as lions, tigers, or bears.
Social media and cultural norms within consumer societies are our jungles now, and the signs for danger can often overwhelm us or sneak up on us. It's no wonder that anxiety has been increasing rapidly throughout
If you've ever wondered why people act so strangely (or downright rudely) in the comments section or post hurtful or insensitive content or even why people act the way they do in person or behind the wheel of their cars, you'll first need to understand the brain.
I love this model of the brain, because you can remind yourself simply by looking at your own hand. Whenever you're making a decision, ask yourself, am I operating from the front of my brain, the pre-frontal cortex? Or am I reacting from my middle brain?
This brings me to the coronavirus.
The news has been reporting on people doing a lot of things from their fear centers lately.
From the skyrocketing price of hand sanitizer to the racial attacks on people of Chinese and generally Asian-descent, we react from fear when we do not take the time to check in with ourselves, connect with our own fears and own them.
The CDC's and other medical experts' recommendations are simple: limit your exposure, wash your hands thoroughly, clean your surfaces, cover your mouth if you are sick. When we have anxiety or depression or other mental health conditions, we can tend to exacerbate fear by focusing on headlines or topics that trigger our fear centers. We can feel afraid before we can get a hold of any facts.
For your own mental health:
Take breaks from watching/reading/scrolling the news.
Take the time to ask yourself, "Who is giving me this information? How is it being presented? How am I feeling right now?"
Keep to your regular schedule and routines as much as possible; don't let fear get in the way of doing things you normally do.
The benefit of social media and online connection is, we can still socially connect and care for each other, even when we are far away. Often extending care and support will both empower you and someone out there who doesn't want to feel alone.
Yes, the world can be a scary place. We can acknowledge our fears and still take control of how we act.
We have survived disasters and turmoil as human beings not only because of our fear centers, but also with the strength, knowledge, and safety we have in connecting with our emotions and caring for each other.