Anxious about Ebola? Here’s What You Can Do

Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Blog, Counseling | Comments Off

It seems inescapable.  Every hour on the hour whether through the mainstream news sources or social media, we hear about the steady encroachment of Ebola, so that even the most carefree among us is bound to feel a bit tense.  Here’s the good news. Though you feel anxious, your response is normal and can even be helpful if well managed.

Evolution has hardwired into us a fight-or-flight response.  When we feel threatened, we either wish to remove the threat through force or to flee from it, and anxiety is the engine that drives our survival in such circumstances.  In times of crisis, the intense feeling can insure we do what will best protect us.

Still, if you don’t wish to live 24 hours a day in a heighted state of alert, what can you do about it?  Cognitive therapy exercises, in which we check out the reality of our perception by looking at the evidence, can reassure us. Psychological science suggests three things.

First, get real by doing the math.  Step back and calculate the odds that you’re at risk for Ebola.  There are currently 319,000,000 people in the United States.  Even if a million people came down with it, you’d still have less than one-third of one percent chance of contracting it.  In other words, there is over a 99% chance you’d be just fine in even the worst-case scenario.  Doing the math demonstrates the fear of Ebola in the United States is irrational.

Second, talk to others about your fears.  The upside of anxiety is that it can motivate us to seek out others for support, and this releases the feel-good brain chemical, oxytocin.  If you follow nature’s lead and talk with others, you’ll feel better.  It’s based in brain science.  Moreover, friends can reassure us that the 24 hour news cycle makes Ebola seem much more pervasive than it is and give us perspective when our thought process stops being useful. Turning off the media reports and tuning into relationships is actually a much better gauge of your specific reality.

Third, do something positive by helping others.  A proven way to manage stress is to take control of what you can and let go of what you can’t.  What’s in your control with the Ebola crisis?  Aside from washing your hands regularly, which is always a good practice to avoid contagious diseases, you can also draw upon your fear as a motivation to help others.  Take charge of your anxiety by participating in efforts to provide relief, such as food, medicine, and finances, to people suffering from Ebola in West Africa.  Rather than wringing your hands in fear, you’ll be doing something tangible, and you’ll also have the added satisfaction that comes with helping others; which, by the way, is one of the most effective methods of all to feel better about yourself and the world around you.

So, as the Ebola situation unfolds, take a deep breath and channel your anxiety into something productive. It’s good science – and a life well lived.