Are Your Fears And Anxieties About Coronavirus Normal?

The American Psychological Association told Newsy certain fears and behaviors are healthy, but others could be a sign of unhealthy anxiety.
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jan 31, 2020

We’re learning information daily about coronavirus, even as it's killed hundreds of people in China, and sickened thousands. Mental health experts say if you’re feeling anxious about it, it may be useful to think about how and why that is. 

"Anything that feels uncertain or feels like a potential threat can cause some anxiety. So it's not unreasonable to think that people might feel a little anxious about what is this coronavirus," Dr. Lynn Bufka, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Director of Practice, Research and Policy for the American Psychological Association told Newsy. 

The CDC says the virus can only be transferred through direct contact with an infected person, and the current risk to Americans is low. Only a handful of Americans are known to have the virus, and nearly all of them traveled themselves to Wuhan, China — the city where this disease first appeared. Bufka said people should remember that: coronavirus has affected relatively few people, and only in specific circumstances.

"We want to pay attention to what is the actual likely risk. Are there things that we can do to reduce that risk and to the extent possible, not having anxiety, consume our thoughts or dictate our actions," Bufka said.

Bufka says anxiety is normal when it leads to an adaptive response. For example, if the idea of coronavirus makes someone nervous about getting sick, and so they wash their hands, that's normal. But if these thoughts cause bigger behavioral changes, it could be a sign of a more serious mental health issue. 

"That instead of deciding 'I'm going to go do X', the anxiety about the potential outcome, and say, 'oh, no, no, that's too dangerous. I'm not going to do that.' And that's when it's important for a person to start thinking maybe the anxiety is telling me more about how to run my life than my choices. And. I would just urge people who struggle on that line with anxiety to think about, can I get some help for it?" Bufka said. 

The global health community is working on a similar problem — not just to find a treatment for the virus, but to push back on misinformation that can prompt uncertainty and fear. 

"The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. We are all in this together and we can only stop it together. This is the time for facts, not fear." Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General said.