It’s one big trap for our brains. You probably already know this,
but the media words events in particular ways in order to get
more attention more eyeballs they’ll aim for either anxiety,
anger or awe an order to gain that attention. Most commonly they’ll
use anxiety. As threats or dangers grab and hold our attention
like nothing else! Case in point, the COVID-19 Coronavirus. There’s now been a few cases in New Zealand and the media
is all over it. It’s so hard not to get swept up in the contagious
panic about this virus as an anxiety specialist. I feel it’s
my duty to point out that anxiety is not a helpful approach
for dealing with this virus. And I’ll tell you why, but first
let’s cover a few facts as groundwork for what will do later.
Coronaviruses are named thus because of a distinctive
Corona or crown of sugary proteins surrounding the virus when
seen under a powerful microscope. This virus family are a
pretty common form of cold, causing a runny nose, sore throat,
headache, fever, cough, and a general unwell feeling. COVID-19
is a new Coronavirus, which crossed over from bats and in 80
percent of cases causes typical cold symptoms, fever, coughing
and shortness of breath for up to two weeks. Only a
small portion of the population experience more severe symptoms.
These are the at-risk portion of the population who are older
or have an underlying health condition like heart disease, lung
disease, diabetes or are on immunosuppressant drugs. In these
cases, pneumonia can set in or other acute breathing difficulties,
and it can last for three to six weeks. Someone’s risk of
dying from this has also been noted to be affected by the country
they’re in and the care they receive for it. For most of
us that are worrying about getting it and dying from it. We’re
in the highly likely to experience it as a cold segment
of the population. For those of us who have feared for our children.
No children so far have died from this Coronavirus, and
in fact seem to show increased resistance to the virus compared
to the rest of the population. The few children that have had this
Coronavirus present with a cough, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea
and headache. Less half of the children have a fever,
many have no symptoms whatsoever. Even infants who are
traditionally more susceptible to respiratory infections have had
relatively mild symptoms. Frighteningly, the World Health Organization
recently escalated the global death rate from Coronavirus to 3.4% However, some experts believe
even the previous estimate of two percent was an overestimate
as it’s a virus that has been shown to have many
mild or asymptomatic cases and a lot of these are going unnoticed
or undiagnosed as it’s hard to distinguish from a regular cold.
In fact, it seems to be spreading so well because of its
low death rate. “But Michael, isn’t it my juicy to try and prevent
bad things happening to me and my family?” I think getting caught
up in quarantine for Coronavirus sounds like a real
pain and could be hard on a lot of people using up their sick leave.
It’s probably a good idea to have some supplies at home as
a contingency plan. A lot of us here in New Zealand already do
that in case of earthquakes. But this is different from worrying.
Worrying is when we catastrophise an issue beyond reasonable
likelihoods and then continue to focus on how bad it
will be rather than proceeding on to creating a reasonable and actionable
plan and then carrying it out. if you’re going to restrict
your life for Coronavirus and spend a great deal of thought
and time on it, then you logically need to for other colds
and flu, which transfer more efficiently and the more widespread.
The risk of a car crash, an injury gone wrong during sports,
leisure, or a bit of household DIY and so on. Where does it end?
Wouldn’t be healthier to focus on keeping your immune system
functioning in optimal condition, making it extremely likely
that you’re only mildly affected by this virus or don’t
even notice you had it? Proper nutrition, exercise, adequate sunlight
and social connection have been shown to be really helpful
for this. And one of the most helpful things is managing
your stress and anxiety. This is because your fight and flight
response is for acute emergencies. It’s for running away
from something that might kill you right now. And to give you
the best chance of survival your body puts everything into running.
It shuts down digestion… and suppresses your immune system.
So the best thing we can do to protect ourselves from a virus
like Coronavirus is to reduce our anxiety about it. Not
amp it up! “Okay, Michael. But how do I stop this worry track from
going around and around in my head?” One thing we can do is
challenge the catastrophic thought that kicked off the worry.
A cognitive technique called Cognitive Challenging. I’m gonna
get Becky to help me demonstrate this technique in action.
Grab a seat. I’ve asked you to help us out as you have struggled with some health
anxiety in the past. I’m gonna get you to imagine for a moment
that you are struggling with some fear about this Coronavirus that’s spreading around the world at the moment. As Michael
said, I’m imagining because I’ve done a lot of this sort of work
and so this coronavirus situation hasn’t been negatively affecting
me. I’m gonna imagine what it would have been like in the past and how
I would have thought and felt. So that you can see how to go through
this process yourself. First off let’s get a bit of an imaginary
rating of how strong your anxiety is about it. I think I’d
be at an 80 out of 100 for that I’d be really scared that my
son Maximus might get sick. Our son Maximus might get sick and I’d be
really scared that maybe one of us would die or someone I really
care about might die from this. So about 80% and that’s
so that we can get an initial rating and then we can check
how that improves after the cognitive challenge. Now we
wanna know what the prediction is. that’s causing that. You’ve already
outlined that. So what would that sound like as a thought
in your mind? I might get the virus. my son might get the
virus. Maybe one of us might die and maybe someone I really care
about a parent or Grandparent might die as well. So
we’ve got that prediction. And so now let’s go through some
questions that can help to get a bit of perspective on that. Yeah.
Alright so first off. Can you think of any evidence against
those nasty predictions happening at the moment? There’s
very few cases in the country and I’m in and I’m not planning
to travel to anywhere where there are lots of cases and even
in the fact of coming in contact with it, there isn’t actually,
not everyone dies from it and there’s a very high possibility
with me being young and healthy that I’d be fine and no
one, no children have died from it, so it’s likely my son would
be fine as well. Often, we can be a bit more rational with other
people who aren’t us. Yeah. And so if you imagine for a moment
that it’s a friend who’s worried about it. Yeah. Rather
than you and and they share this worry with you. What would
you say to help them? Cuz of where we live and the sort of access we have to medical services and the hygiene and and different
things that we have in our society that we’re very unlikely for
it to be a serious issue. That we not the… most of the people
I know are not in the high-risk area and even if they
are, that doesn’t definitely mean that they are going to have a really
negative outcome from it. Yes, they might have to take some
time off work, but they’re probably end up being okay. Yeah.
If they get at all, they may not get it or they might be completely,
asymptomatic, not have any symptoms and just kind
of go through it without even knowing. Alright, let’s get a bit
a long-term perspective now, so if you imagine in six months time from
now, right, you’re looking back. How are you feeling then?
There’s been multiple of these sort of things happening over the
years. I remember Bird flu that was a while ago, and it didn’t
end up tuning into a big deal, like there wasn’t heaps and heaps
of cases and even things that have ended up being like Swine
flu, there was quite a lot of people that got that, it ended up kind
of petering out. And after like six months, a year, it was hardly any cases and it was out of the news cycle and so no one
was thinking about it anymore. If you have a think about the
benefits of that prediction, Yeah.
The negative prediction –
what are the benefits for you of believing that of thinking that?
Well, I guess in the past, I would have think thought that thinking
of all these worst case scenarios. Maybe I could be more
prepared. Maybe I could make sure I don’t go to a place where
I might get it, that I might be able to isolate myself in a way
that I keep myself, my family safe. I think that would be what
would be going through my head is that. Those worries are gonna
help me to get prepared sort of thing.
What about costs? What does
it cost you thinking those predictions?
Yeah, well, firstly,
time and energy because having worried thoughts is exhausting
and time consuming and it really pulls me out of my present.
So I can’t be there for my son right now, looking after him,
because I’m so worried about this imagined future where he’s terribly
sick. I can’t sleep, so this… and also if I do start taking precautions
like limiting my exposure to other people. I know
I get really unwell mentally when I don’t have social contact,
if I stop going to playgroups if I hold up at home, if I don’t
go to the supermarket. If I don’t do those things where I can
get exposure to other people, I’m actually gonna start… I’m gonna
guarantee that I start getting unwell psychologically.
I know even if I don’t get full blown depression, that I start to
feel depressed if I, if I stop going out.
So what’s your feel of
that balance: benefits to costs? I think that there is more
costs to benefits. I think there is still that pull to prepare.
To be prepared.
Yeah that urge. It reminded me of that Lion King song…
“Yes be prepared! For what?” (sung) But I can see the incredible downside
and I see a really big cost if I get into a pattern. So
maybe it might not be as big a cost if I do it just for
this one thing, but if I also do it for the next cold or flu.
If I do it for some other like terrorist attacks or what if
there’s a shooting, or those sort of things, then as those pile
up, the cost will like continue to exponentially be worse,
than restrict your life down. Yeah being prepared for every
possible worst case scenario.
Let’s do what we call balancing
that thought out create a more balanced thought. So there’s two
ways we can do this – we can take that evidence against it happening.
And we can create a more accurate prediction of the
future. Or we can ignore that and we can create a
thought that is just plain more helpful. It takes away those costs,
those downsides of thinking like that. Let’s just go for
a nice simple more realistic more accurate prediction of the
future type one for today. Okay more accurate is that
I… I’m not gonna… not get it at all. That I might know someone who gets
it, but they’re likely to be… have a difficult couple of weeks
while they’re isolated but then be absolutely fine.
And that’s with you just going about your normal life isn’t it? Not avoiding
supermarkets or anything like that? You just do your
normal thing and yet you don’t get it? And thinking that thought,
what would be your anxiety rating now?
I think it would probably be around a 30 or 40.
So down from about 80 down to 30 or 40? Yeah. So still some anxiety, but
not like the full blown, the world is just about to end type of thing. And that’s generally how cognitive challenges work. It reduces it down,
it doesn’t get rid of the anxiety, right. We’re challenging
it and the brain releases some beta blockers some tranquilizers
to calm things down, but it doesn’t just like get rid of that
anxiety entirely. But it does really help, even if you’re only
reduce that 5% or 2%, it’s still worth it, you’ve
still got that nice anxiety reduction.
Yeah, and it doesn’t feel that urgency that I have to do something right now and I have
to fix this and I have to escape.
I have to worry.
This, you know, this maybe isn’t perfectly safe, but it’s not
like an urgent threat. I have to jump on right now, type thing.
Awesome, thanks so much for your help. You’re very welcome. Bye!
I hope you found this helpful both for any worries about the current
Coronavirus issue and for having a new technique you can
use for any other health worries you might have. Give the
video a like if you’d like me to make more like this. Otherwise
I’ll assume you don’t. See you in the next one!
Hoommm! I am boosting my
immune system. Last fact, research shows you can boost your
white blood cell count just by visualizing white blood cells.
It’s even effective if you picture a little white space men
with laser guns like I do. Pew pew pew pew pew pew!