‘Emotions can be contagious’: Advice on coping with coronavirus-related anxiety

As of Sunday, all Canadian provinces have announced confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

As the virus continues to spread, fear is spreading as well.

A practicing clinical psychologist in Halifax says it’s important to take a step back and be mindful of the fear, anxiety and panic that people are spreading to one another, and learn how to cope with the negative emotions.

“COVID-19 can be contagious, but emotions can be contagious,” says Dr. Simon Sherry, who’s also a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University.

Sherry says the mechanism for spreading fear is through endless conversations about the virus, which people need to avoid for their mental well-being.

“It doesn’t have to be the number one topic around the water cooler or the dinner table. It’s fine to set up boundaries and to not communicate about COVID-19,” Sherry says.

“Maybe one conversation a day is enough.”

“A basic factual update from a credible source per day should be sufficient,” he added.

He says for now, it’s important to ‘disentangle’ what is a factual threat from what is a perceived threat.

According to Sherry, information on the factual threat can come from credible sources like Health Canada or the World Health Organization, but that the perceived threat can lead people to overestimate the likelihood of danger.

“When that perceived threat goes high, so too does anxiety. People can start to think catastrophically,” Sherry says.

“COVID-19 is like a fire, catastrophic thinking is like gasoline.”

“And so the factual threat then gets amplified greatly, so you start to see more danger than is actually there.”

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