Does The Media & Social Media Make COVID-19 Fears Worse?
By Dr. Michelle Kmiec, OHH Founder
Unless you have been living totally off-grid, then you are well aware of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As of March 18th, the illness officially became a Pandemic.
We have been inundated with updates, constant reminders of preventive measures such as washing our hands, social distancing, along with new rules such as bans of more than ten people, major events being canceled, schools closed for the rest of the school year, forced and self-quarantines, stay-at-home orders, wearing face masks, jobs lost, and to top it all off, the never-ending debates of impending doom on cable news networks and social media. In fact, you can’t go anywhere without hearing, seeing or feeling about it! What do I mean by “feeling”?
Well my goodness after all of that, the feeling is indeed fear and worry and that can certainly result in panic.
Firstly, don’t get me wrong. Of course, this virus is of major concern and absolutely we should be taking it seriously.
That said, is the magnitude of fear and worry that many are experiencing justified?
And here’s another question that I haven’t seen addressed enough despite the hours and hours of coverage – We know and understand the benefits of washing our hands to protect our immune system, but how do FEAR and WORRY affect the immune system?
Fear and Worry and The Immune System
We have all heard that stress can worsen any health condition. In fact, stress can be the determining factor of whether a person can recover from an illness or not. But where does this stress come from? Usually from the fear and worry of the unknown and/or imagining the worse possible outcomes.
Of course, temporality being fearful or worrying about something warranted doesn’t necessarily mean that your health will take a hit, but staying in a constant state of fear and worry will definitely take a toll on your immune system. And it does this by causing inflammation.
Basically speaking, whenever you experience stress, your body releases “stress” hormones which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing if you need to get out the way of a speeding bus.
These hormones help you to react in a way that saves your life by making a quick decision to jump out of the way. It also sends the needed resources to your muscles giving you the extra strength and speed to move efficiently and quickly, but it does come with a price. Other functions of your body are temporarily shut off such as digesting food, which naturally isn’t much of a priority when a 15-ton bus is heading for you! But once the crisis is over, your body returns to homeostasis and can get back to the business of digesting that awesome lunch you had only moments ago.
However, the release of “stress” hormones can be a bad thing if it becomes chronic. And how easy is this in today’s world? Though we aren’t experiencing or anticipating a speeding bus hitting us in every moment of the day (thank goodness), instead many of us worry about things as silly as social media comments, what somebody said about somebody else on TV (never mind not knowing either in reality), and the list goes on and on.
Speaking of social media, a recent study concluded that indeed the longer screen time resulted in a higher risk of anxiety and depression (both by the way also weaken the immune system)
Another interesting bit of information relates to the correlation between watching the news and the feelings of anger, dread, fear, and worry. Though correlation doesn’t always result in causation – it certainly does in this case.
Not that long ago, maybe just a few decades, the news was given for an hour a day – thirty minutes in the morning and then again in the evening unless, of course, there was a breaking news situation. It was important to condense newsworthy topics to the public in a nonbiased way. When something serious did happen, not only was the information credible, but you could also see and “feel” it from the newscasters as they reported.
Today however we have the news coming at us twenty-four hours a day from multiple sources. With this comes ratings and the competition against other media outlets. And what drives people to pick one outlet over another? Confidence in the perceived reporting as truthful as well as some level of entertainment – hence the ever-popular opinion commentators on platforms such as CNN, MSNBC, and FOX.
After all, there are many more hours of airtime now to fill with something otherwise people wouldn’t tune in to watch. And nothing gets people more passionate to watch than stoking at their emotions.
An article in Psychology Today, ‘The Psychological Effects of TV News’ written by Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D. stated this phenomenon the best,
“Because we now have 24-hour news coverage, gone are the days when a correspondent or journalist’s role was simply to impartially describe what was happening in the world—because of satellite TV, we have an almost immediate visual record of what is happening throughout the world. So the journalist’s job can become one of evaluating the news story and it is only a small step from evaluating a story to sensationalizing it.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Indeed there are professional reporters and commentators among the specific news channels I listed (and others), but aren’t they all also guilty of sensationalizing the many topics or events they report or comment about? Of course, they do!
But what does all of this have to do with the spread of fear regarding the coronavirus? Well…um…Everything!
Like a wildfire, facts can be distorted and merged with opinion in order to fit a specific paradigm leading the way of an uncontained wall of fire.
So not only are people already primed from chronically watching emotionally flammable “news”, they now combust from fear and worry that the coronavirus pandemic is already the worse possible reality when of course this is not based on actual data and facts. Is it any wonder that mass hysteria is upon us?
When people feel that something is out of control, it sparks an internal instinct to regain control or suffer whatever unknown outcome. This is the case with the coronavirus.
So what do we do?
On the one hand, the concern is definitely warranted (I’ll give you that), but not at the level of an all-out Armageddon, as many media outlets often depict. They, sadly, are focused on the worse case scenarios, and this does little good for anyone. If you step away from those media outlets and focus on what the data and facts actually are, you could deduce that the overall outlook is far better than what many believed just a few weeks ago.
As testing is becoming more widespread, confirming more have tested positive, but with little to no symptoms along with the thousands that have already recovered is showing the mortality rate is far lower than what was reported, again, just a few weeks ago. This is good news!
There also appears to be experimental treatments that are working for many with moderate and even severe symptoms. One such treatment is hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (Z-Pak) combo. This is good news!
And once politicians finally remove the partisan rhetoric, amazing government aid for all businesses and individuals will finally become available, which is definitely good news!
Just knowing these few things, doesn’t that make you feel better? This is because as we learn more, the fear of the unknown diminishes.
So let me ask again, is all the constant fear and worry on the media and social media justified?
I think you know the answer. The key is to keep everything in perspective and one sure way to do this is the most obvious, but likely difficult for many of us. Minimize the amount of time spent watching the news or better yet, turn off and watch something else – something that will make you laugh. And lay down all mobile devices for at least an hour (even more would be better!)
Get your information from sources that aren’t driven by politics, sensationalism, and ratings. Doing that alone will remove much of the fear and worry almost instantly. Not to mention give a boost to your immune system which I think we all can agree is a very good thing.
Above all, no person is alone. We are all in this together and we will all get to the other side of this just like we have with other health or national/world crisis. Personally, my faith in humanity has actually grown from all of this. If we can come together and believe in each other, we can accomplish anything!
And that is a GREAT thing!