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The pandemic is spreading panic. Here's the science behind why.

Uncertainty can drive panic

During this pandemic, we are inundated with information. We receive inconsistent messaging from governments, the media, and public health authorities.

All the varied recommendations fuel anxiety because we are not accustomed to living in situations where we have rapid change.

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The pandemic is spreading panic. Here's the science behind why.

The pandemic is spreading panic. Here's the science behind why.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/modern-history/why-we-evolved-to-feel-panic-anxiety/

nationalgeographic.com

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Key Ideas

Panic buying

Panic-buying supplies is one way people have coped with uncertainty over epidemics. People feel like their survival is threatened, and they need to do something to feel like they're in control.

In 1918, during the Spanish flu, people in Baltimore raided drug stores for anything that would prevent or relieve the flu.

Causes of panic

Panic starts when the emotional center of the brain wants us to get out of harm's way now, with no care how we do it. However, the part of the brain that handles your behavioral responses first wants to think through the situation.

Panic sets in when the more rational part of your brain gets overrun by emotion to such an extent that adrenaline kicks in. 

Serious drawbacks of panic

When we're in immediate danger of being run over by a car, the most rational response may be flight or freeze. But serious drawbacks may make us think only of ourselves, leaving loved-ones exposed.

Panic doesn't help with long-term threats. A more rational response is needed to assess the risk and make a plan to act.

Uncertainty can drive panic

During this pandemic, we are inundated with information. We receive inconsistent messaging from governments, the media, and public health authorities.

All the varied recommendations fuel anxiety because we are not accustomed to living in situations where we have rapid change.

Our psychological biases

  • Availability bias: When you've heard or read about something a lot, it is easy to imagine yourself in that situation. That ease of simulating the scenario overwhelms your judgment of the probability.

  • Biases toward optimism or pessimism. Pessimists can't stop anxiously imagining all the potential negative scenarios, while the optimists tend to believe that nothing bad is going to happen.

A "good" time to panic

Some amount of anxiety can be good in the face of a disaster. Fear can be a motivator. It reminds us to wash our hands and even stock up on essentials.

However, people who experience acute anxiety find it harder to keep themselves from spiralling into panic mode. Studies show that chronic stress can shrink the parts of the brain that help with reason. Prolonged anxiety can leave you exhausted and depressed.

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The Lockdown: U.S.

The Pandemic Lockdown in the U.S. directly affects the livelihood of a shocking 80% of American workers who work in retail, real estate, education, entertainment and restaurants.
Many of these offices and stores are not going to open after that.

The Lockdown: Europe And Asia

  • In Europe, The north of Italy, which is the main tourist hub, is seeing a collapse in economic activity, along with Germany, which is falling at a steeper rate than the United States. Even countries like Japan, which are not hit that hard, are about to witness an apocalyptic fall.
  • In India, with the abrupt 21 days shutdown, which was recently extended by another 19 days, only a small percentage of the 1.3 billion population is covered by any social security, and millions of daily wage or migrant workers, have no hope, future or place to stay.

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The pandemic

According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.

Declaring a pandemic

When declaring a pandemic, the World Health Organization has the last word. There is no threshold, such as a certain number of deaths or infections, or a number of countries affected, that needs to be met.
And once a pandemic is declared, it becomes more likely that community spread will eventually happen, and governments and health systems need to ensure they are prepared for that.

Dealing with the current pandemic

Although a pandemic has been declared, there is no need for global panic. Panic would defeat the purpose of trying to raise awareness.
It is still urging countries to detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people.

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A lesson from history

Near the end of World War One, the Spanish flu infected over a quarter of the world's population and claimed between 50 and 100 million lives.

During this pandemic, cities around the US ...

The spread of the new virus

  • If you are infected and continue to socialize as normal, you may pass the virus on to between two and three friends or family members, who could then infect a further 2 - 3 people. In one month, this can lead to 244 other cases, and in two months, it can rise to 59,604
  • A silent transmission - people who have been infected, but don't show any symptoms - can occur in up to 10% of cases. These people may not realize that they need to self-isolate.
  • There is evidence that staying at home and maintaining a safe distance from others can slow the spread.

The aim of social distancing

One of the goals of social distancing is to delay the spread of the virus, so it reaches people more slowly

The idea is to lengthen the time period over which the virus travels through a population and push the peak number of cases back so it appears later. With a lower rate of spreading, less infected people will need urgent care and resources at any given time.

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