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So, have you heard about this thing called the coronavirus that’s going around?
I’m kidding, of course–when I ask if you’ve heard about it–because it’s EVERYWHERE.
I mean, everywhere I turn I see a big graphic with some combination of red, black, white, or yellow and words like OUTBREAK or PANDEMIC or DANGER.
Here’s my question:
Are these words–and is this style of reporting–really helping us?
I’m actually more concerned about the reporting on the coronavirus than I am about the virus itself. And not just the reporting, but what the reporting is doing.
Now, that doesn’t mean I’m taking the virus lightly. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in the news. BUT, remember that the media makes money with headlines and stories that grab your attention and make you keep coming back for more. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous side effect that can come from this kind of reporting in times like this:
Are you sensing it?
The Dow dropped over 2,000 points or 7.79% yesterday, which is the worst one-day point decline ever.
Shelves of hand sanitizer have been wiped out (even though the CDC has made it clear that hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as washing your hands).
Now I read that even toilet paper is selling out. Do you know why?
“Images of empty shelves and shopping carts piled high with supplies have inundated news reports and social feeds,” said Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of The Psychology of Pandemics. “People see images of panic buyers, assume there’s a reason to panic and buy up supplies, too.” (Emphasis added)
In other words, there’s no reason for toilet paper to sell out, but… panic.
Fear is contagious, and the thing is, fear doesn’t fix anything.
There is no level of fear that makes us safer from the coronavirus. What makes us safer is calm, clear, rational thinking. But, guess what? Calm, clear, rational thinking is turned off when your sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the “fight or flight” response) has been activated by fear.
There are reasonable precautions for all of us to take–like washing your hands thoroughly–and there are additional precautions for some higher-risk populations to take. But even for those at highest risk, layering fear on top of the precautions doesn’t help. As a matter of fact, it makes it worse.
Not only does fear spur stock market sell-offs and supermarket sellouts, but it also actually reduces your immune function.
From the Cleveland Clinic: “Stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes—the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold and cold sores.”
That’s one reason medical professionals like Dr. Alex Jahangir, Chair of the Metro Board of Health here in Nashville, say, “The last thing we need to do is have unwarranted anxiety around this virus.”
So, what do we do?
The media is going to report how the media reports. Nothing will change there.
The virus is going to spread. Don’t expect otherwise.
We don’t control our circumstances, but we do control how we respond.
Listen to the medical professionals when it comes to advice on how to protect yourself and those around you from the virus itself.
Then, take care of your mental wellbeing. A good place to start is with your focus: While all the attention is on what you don’t want (getting the coronavirus, in this case), shift your focus to what you do want.
After all, your focus feeds your thoughts. Your thoughts feed your feelings. Your feelings become your reality, as you’re essentially “tuned” to that frequency and you’ll find more and more conditions in your environment to sustain those feelings.
If you want to dwell in something other than fear, the first step is to be intentional about what you’re focused on.
What do you want more of in your life?
Health? Wellness? Happiness? What does thriving feel like to you?
Once you know what you want, then what do you need to focus on to experience more of that? What choices do you need to make?
Ask yourself this: What would it feel like to feel totally healthy right now? To feel totally well right now? To be in total peace right now? What would that feel like? Can you imagine it? Can you feel it?
You have the ability to feel that feeling now, if you wish.
And, just as washing your hands isn’t all about protecting you–but about protecting those around you, too–the same is true for this exercise.
Again, just as this virus is contagious, so is fear. And you know what else is contagious? Calm. Kindness. Love. Peace. Joy. Thriving.
What do you want to spread today?
Let’s do what we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But let’s also do what we can to spread what creates a better world for all of us.
You have the power to make that choice, and when you make that choice, you change everything… in this moment.