Adam Stoner

Coronavirus and news anxiety

With the COVID-19 Coronavirus spreading, it’s natural to feel anxious.

News outlets hang on data and unfortunately that means they hang on death counts. The nature of modern news means these figures feel inescapable; push notifications for every new case can feel like the virus is moving closer and closer to where you live and work even if the risk remains relatively low. Compound this with the firehose of information and misinformation on the social internet and you have a breeding ground for fear and anxiety.

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of something so devastating, uncontrollable, and seemingly invisible.

One thing I know about me and news coverage is that my mind, especially when anxious anyway, can catastrophise very quickly. […] News operates like an anxiety disorder. It gravitates to despair. – Matt Haig on Twitter

What people fear most about tragedy is its randomness - a taxi cab jumps the curb and hits a pedestrian, a gun misfires and kills a bystander. Better to have some rational cause and effect between incident and injury. And if cause and effect aren’t possible, better that there at least be some reward for all the suffering. – Jeffrey Kluger writing in TIME

If, like hundreds of other people right now, the headlines are worrying you or you’re struggling to come to terms with exactly what’s going on, then here are just three things that have helped me…

Follow the advice. This will vary by country and even by local authority but in the UK the advice is currently to wash your hands as frequently as you feel you need to and steer clear of anyone displaying any flu-like symptoms. If you are symptomatic, isolate yourself, and call 111.

Turn off breaking news notifications (which never tell the full story) and avoid news from outlets that typically sensationalise. I have a preference for news organisations that use two or more independent sources for every single piece of information.

Break numbers into percentages and rationalise them. As of writing this, less than 100 people in the UK are known to be afflicted with the virus. That’s less than 0.0001% of the UK’s population. Zero people in the UK have died. There may be nearing 100,000 cases worldwide but a lot of them are resolved, over 80,000 of them are still in China, and most people who are infected ultimately survive. The odds are in your favour.

04 Mar 2020

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