How to keep calm amid the pandemic

April 22, 2020 11:41
People worry whether they have been or will be infected by the coronavirus, or whether they will become asymptomatic carriers, affecting their relatives, friends and colleagues. Photo: Reuters

We don’t know when the Covid-19 pandemic will end, but many experts are asking us to be prepared for a long lasting war. David Ho, the world’s famous AIDS researcher who is currently developing a treatment for Covid-19, confessed that the virus would be troubling us for longer than envisaged, just like the widespread of smallpox in the past which took 20 years for humans to completely wipe it out.

The disease makes many people psychological distressed. A survey conducted in Hong Kong from January to early February this year showed that 98% of the respondents expressed anxiety about the outbreak, and the average anxiety index reached the critical threshold. The Mainland also interviewed more than 52,000 people when the epidemic was at the peak two months ago, 35% of the respondents were obviously disturbed, those with higher education are particularly more likely than other groups to fall into the high distress category. In mid March, a survey of the Pew Research Centre of the United States also found that over 40% of the Americans “felt nervous, anxious or on edge” lately. The lower the level of income, the more obvious the emotional effect.

At the same time, these negative emotions may persist for a while after the epidemic subsides. After the SARS in 2003, the Chinese University of Hong Kong interviewed Hong Kong citizens twice, one in late 2003 and another in 2004, to understand their views on the epidemic. It showed that more than 70% of the citizens still avoided going to hospitals after the epidemic. Many people felt helpless and scared after the outbreak. Even when the epidemic has subsided, the fear is still lingering.

This time, the virus is not definitely lethal, but it is highly infectious. Many people worry whether they have been or will be infected, or whether they will become asymptomatic carriers, affecting their relatives, friends and colleagues. They experience great psychological pressure all the time.

In face of an uncertain future, life can be very stressful. In 2008, a survey of more than 100 breast cancer patients in Taiwan found that their anxiety before a confirming diagnosis was much higher than that after the diagnosis.

Many studies pointed out that unknown is the fundamental fear of human beings. The brain will fill the gap of cognition with imagination, but it tends to be in a negative way. Therefore, it will deepen the worry. Under the vicious circle, daily life and emotions are greatly affected, if the situation worsens, it will lead to anxiety.

To break this vicious circle, it is important to maintain a daily living routine. For example, if you are now confined to working from home, you can imitate your usual daily routine. After breakfast in the morning, change into your working clothes to lead your mind to enter the working model. If you are retired and cannot go to exercise with your friends in the morning as usual, you can do so at home in the same hours of the day. If it is not advisable to go to restaurant for tea and dim-sum, make your own. The key is to maintain the usual living routine, keep the order, and reduce the time of unrealistic thinking.

In addition, while it is important to stay alert to the pandemic situation, including by social media news, there is no need to check it too often. Once or twice a day, and 15 minutes each time is enough. Otherwise, it will only make you even more anxious.

The pandemic will end someday, apart from disease prevention, we must also keep calm to survive the crisis.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong