Update from Professor Rusi Jaspal

Published: Monday, April 20, 2020

Professor Rusi Jaspal is Wandsworth Council’s advisor on social isolation. In his latest blog he shares his thoughts on overcoming fear during COVID-19.

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COVID-19 (coronavirus) can have a significant impact not only on our physical health but also on our psychological health. In my last update, I outlined how we can stay socially connected during the lockdown. In this update, I wish to share some tips on how we might keep up our spirits amid the fear that commonly surrounds the outbreak.

Fear is a common emotional reaction to a hazard (in this case, coronavirus). This emotion is actually quite adaptive and alerts you to the possibility that you may be at risk of harm and, ideally, should motivate you to take action to reduce your risk.

In an experiment we did at the end of March, we allocated people from all over the UK to two conditions: one group viewed an actual news report about COVID-19 and the control group viewed a video about an unrelated topic. We found that people who viewed the news report about COVID-19 experienced higher levels of fear and depressive symptoms, compared to the control group. In many respects, this is understandable – much of the news at the moment is upsetting, uncertain, and can increase our fear levels. Yet, we do need to stay informed about the outbreak.

How we respond to fear is very important. We have all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response. The choices we make can have an impact our psychological health. The following tips can help us manage our fear levels:

  • Staying informed about the outbreak can reduce feelings of uncertainty. Please use a reliable source of information to keep informed about the outbreak, such as the BBC or the NHS. Unfortunately, there is much inaccurate information circulating on social media. This can be misleading and unnecessarily increase our fear levels.
  • Stay informed about COVID-19 by viewing or listening to a regular update once a day. Try not to allow COVID-19 to dominate your entire day and try to distract yourself by focusing on other things. A positive distraction (such as reading a book, organising an online meeting with friends) may help you feel more at ease.
  • Do talk about the outbreak and how other people are getting on. By exchanging confidences, we often feel reassured and supported. Moreover, we also provide others with support. We’re reminded that we’re in this together. However, try not to allow the outbreak to dominate all of your conversations – there are many other things one could discuss!
  • Make use of the resources that the Council has made available to residents, including the Wandsworth Community Hub.

One of the most effective ways of reducing fear is to focus on the things that you can actually do to fight the outbreak. This gives us feelings of control and competence, which we refer to as ‘self-efficacy’ in psychology. Thinking about what we can do is really empowering when we face difficult situations, such as this outbreak.

Of course, the most significant, effective and impactful step that each and every one of us can take is to stick to the social distancing measures outlined by the government.

Prevention is the most powerful weapon we possess. We can all do this and, if we do, we will win the fight against COVID-19.