Like any other threat to the basic need of survival, the recent Swine flue alert is causing fear in people. While a reasonable fear of death is a normal human reaction to a threat, excessive worrying and paranoia are not. The Swine flu alert can understandably trigger a sudden loss of security that for some individuals might be particularly difficult to handle.
People at risk of a exaggerated response include 1) people with generalized anxiety disorder, 2) people used to have everything under control, 3) people that present difficulty controlling emotions in general, and 4) individuals that tend to catastrophize events when under stress (what we call in psychology a tendency to black & white or distorted thinking).
It is especially important in cases of potential mass panic that we remain calm. Obsession and terror create more problems than they solve, and paralyze rather than motivate.
What to do:
1- Inform yourself and then go back to your life. The excessive exposure to media or news can increase your sense of loss of control and make you think that the worst has happened or is about to happen. Checking the news once or twice a day is plenty. Remember that things don’t change fast even the worst scenarios.
2- Tell your children the truth in their own language according to their age and model with your behavior. They will handle the situation as well as you do.
3- Follow directions carefully but do not worry about perfection. If the recommendations say wash your hands after certain activities or a certain number of times, try to do it. Remind yourself that if you forgot once or you couldn’t do exactly what the directions indicated, you are still being extra cautious.
4- Avoid participating in long rumor discussions. In situations like this, most people don’t have complete information. Pieces of information without complete reference of sources or details are rumors not worthy of your time and can be detrimental to your mental health.
5- Avoid thinking too much about negative scenarios. Try to remain based in fact. If your mind starts racing, just come back to the basic facts you know to be true about the situation. At the same time, try to think of other scenarios, also possible but this time positive to counteract the negative effects of the first ones. If this is particularly hard for you to do, ask others for help. Remember that not everything your brain tells you is necessarily true. Learn to control your brain instead of your brain controlling you.
6- Maintain a positive attitude. Continue to be grateful for the good things that you have in life and maintain hope. Positive mental attitude is priority number one in any survival situation. In fact, it’s listed as priority number one in the US military’s survival training. Positive mental attitude is more important than water and food! So even if things don’t indicate it or you don’t believe it, repeat to yourself that “I can handle this situation! Everything will be ok.”
7- Remain focused on what you can control and let go of what you cannot