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Swine Flu Anxiety - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Anxiety

April 30, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

As the global epidemic rages, North Texans are bracing for the onslaught of this deadly virus. While many of us are naturally anxious, it is important to know when normal anxiety crosses the line.

Swine flu makes us nervous for a variety of reasons. Swine flu is the ultimate enemy. It has infiltrated our country in a matter of days, is highly contagious and is potentially lethal. In the face of such news, it is easy to overreact as we see our mobilized public health officials issuing warnings, closing schools and calling us to new levels of caution.

That being said, as with any adversity, large or small, remaining focused on the positive and in a problem-solving mode are essential skills. The public must remain calm, realistic and maintain a proper perspective of what this disease is and what it is not. When you repeatedly dwell on scary news without remembering the steps to protecting yourself, it is natural to spin into a terrifying sequence.

Swine flue anxiety affects us in a variety of ways.

  • Psychological Immunity: if you are a worrier, your psychological immune system may already be depleted. Many of us have been worrying about the economy for months so a health scare is not something we need to bother with. At this point, many of us are mentally exhausted.
  • Vulnerability to Anxiety: Some people’s brains are built to generate anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, you are more likely to dwell on this health crisis in a self defeating way. Remember that your brain does not differentiate between real events and fantasized events and will generate the constant warnings to keep you safe. That adrenaline and cortisol for fighting and fleeing will “amp up” your system continuously.
  • Proximity to Danger: If you have experienced a traumatic situation with a virulent disease or a catastrophic event, you may be more anxious about this one.

Emotionally effective people know how to think and feel based upon objective reality. They are good at matching their reaction to the situation. If you are becoming less emotionally effective about swine flu, these are the symptoms you will see:

  • Loss of Critical Thinking: Failing to keep the situation in perspective means that you are losing objectivity and are failing to maintain perspective about what you can do to protect yourself. You may be thinking in an illogical manner or overestimating your risk.
  • Overarching Anxiety: If you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, you have lost perspective. You should be concerned but not overwhelmed.
  • Lack of Proactive Healthy Behaviors: If it is only danger that dominates your mind, then you are not employing intelligent self-protective steps to guard your health. Sleep, eating and exercise all fall by the wayside when we are too anxious.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, use these strategies:

  • Get the Facts: Gather the latest information from the media that will help you to accurately determine your risk so that you can take reasonable precautions.
  • Keep Your Network Going: Talk to other people about what they are hearing and seeing. Such conversations foster a sense of normality and provide great outlets for sharing feelings and releasing tension.
  • Practice Resilience: Differentiate between viewing yourself as effective and strong versus viewing yourself as vulnerable and in danger.
  • Maintain a Hopeful Outlook: Your mental health is one of the keys to staying healthy. Stress leads to an alarm reaction, mobilization and exhaustion. Ironically, by stressing about the disease, you make yourself more vulnerable to it. Distract yourself and break up the negative thinking.

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