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When I as a psychologist react to the media focus that is, and also see how people can be paralyzed by fear, I feel the need to come up with some advice about self-care, and at the same time also try to nuance what I experience as a one-sided focus on fear and danger in the media.

 



Image: by CDC on Unsplash

This writes psychologist Kyrre Dyregrov, in a post that was first published on the website of The online psychologists, while which with the psychologist's permission is shared on hjelptilhjelp.no. His post was originally written when we first heard of the pandemic reaching Norway, but is highly relevant also today. Here you read the whole post:

At the time of writing, the date is March 1st (2020), and the recent media focus is high, as is the need for source criticism, good self-care and to some extent also protection from the massive pressure in the media around the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.





As a psychologist, I react to the media focus that is, and also see how people can be paralyzed by fear, I feel a need to come up with some advice about self-care, and at the same time also try to nuance what I experience as a one-sided focus on fear and danger in the media, looking for more clicks and readers.

 

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus is a collective term for viruses that often cause colds.

In December 2019, a new type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 was discovered. This virus causes a disease called Covid-19, often just referred to as the coronavirus in the media.





Currently, there is no vaccine against this virus, which primarily appears to affect the respiratory tract. It is now known that the virus is transmitted through droplet infection. It is assumed that each person who is infected on average infects 2-3 other people (source). At the same time, it is known that the virus causes mild reactions for the vast majority of people who become infected. The reason why you take the virus so seriously is that you see that some groups, especially older people, or people with underlying diseases, are more prone to complicated disease processes. These end in death in the worst case.

The mortality rate from the disease is estimated at around 0,4% at present (source: National Institute of Public Health). (NOTE: Updated information from FHI.no per 12.03.20: "We do not yet know the lethality (risk of death for those infected), but assume that it is well below 1% on average, but much higher among the elderly.") 

For risk groups, mortality is higher. As of now (01.03.20) it is not known that children under the age of 10 have died from the virus.

 

WHAT CAN I DO TO DEAL WITH FEAR AS BEST AS POSSIBLE?

First of all: It is natural and understandable that you are scared as the situation is and as the media coverage has been. Because it is not surprising if you ponder or worry more than you usually do when the situation is as it is. Pondering and worrying are inherent in our human nature and are our ways of learning from our mistakes to prevent them from happening again, or to prepare us for something in the future.

This article is written especially for you who experience that this fear is more than just a little annoying, and that it goes beyond your everyday life. I want to give you just a few tips on what you can do to let the fear of the virus take less control over your everyday life.

 

SORTING OUT "UNNECESSARY" THINKING AND CONCERN

My attitude to the virus, and an attitude that I think helps me stay focused on everyday life, is that I should let the authorities and those responsible for infection preparedness take care of the vast majority of coronavirus thinking.

What I think, and most people are best at, is making our own everyday lives stick together. My advice to you is therefore: Do this as best you can.

Unless you are responsible for infection control or emergency preparedness for the authorities, this is probably not an over-focus on the virus and the extent of its consequences. Much can probably be said about the authorities' handling of the virus, but I still believe that we have such a well-functioning health care system here in Norway, that we can count on the mistakes that have been made or will be made, are mistakes the authorities will quickly correct. 

One of the nice things about our attention is that we can control it. If you have many thoughts and concerns about the coronavirus, then I think it's because these thoughts have a function for you:

 

  1. Maybe you think you have to think a lot about it to be prepared if the virus hits you?
  2. Maybe you think you will discover it sooner if you are prepared?
  3. Maybe you think that by thinking about it, you can prevent it from happening?
  4. Maybe you think that if you do not think about it, it will happen?

If you know of such assumptions, it is no wonder that you spend a lot of time thinking about the virus. Do you have experienced losing someone to illness, or are you already afraid of getting sick, these are factors that can come into play and make you more afraid of the coronavirus than you would otherwise be. It can be good to "counter" these assumptions with some good answers:

 

  1. How much time are you really going to spend preparing for this? Maybe you should rather let those who have this as a job, spend their time on it?
  2. What if it happened that you got the virus and it turns out that you have spent a lot of time and energy on it to no avail.
  3. And how do you know it will help you? What if you come up with solutions that work against their purpose?
  4. Put bluntly: If it is so wise to ponder and worry, why is not the authorities' advice that all Norwegians spend many hours a day pondering and worrying about the risk of infection?

 

MAKE A LIST

If you spend a lot of time pondering worries that do not really make you better prepared for the coronavirus, then I have a suggestion for you:

 

  1. Change focus to problem solving: Set aside 10-15 minutes for this.
  2. In these 10-15 minutes you can go to the National Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Health Service's websites.
  3. Write down what advice these public bodies bring to you as a citizen
  4. Make a list of the tips, which you can then choose to update daily. Remember that you do not need to spend much more than a maximum of 10-15 minutes on this

When the thoughts or worries appear outside of this time, you can choose to let them pass, float away from you - you have your list. You therefore know what precautions to take now and in the future.

 

PROTECT YOURSELF FOR THE WORST - AND BE CRITICAL

In these times, disaster headlines abound in the media. For a simple reason: It gives readers and clicks. However, it is important to know that the media picture does not necessarily represent the actual threat picture. The same applies to what you can read in the comments field, watch on Youtube, or read on Twitter, etc.

If you spend a lot of time on these channels, and get a lot of info from here, you risk that the picture you get of the actual danger is not a realistic picture. If you find that you become anxious and afraid of dealing with all this information, then my advice is that you try to limit the time you spend on these channels. For how much do you really need to know? With vital information, we see that the authorities are effectively able to reach out to many people, either via mass mailings of SMS to affected people, the internet, or in some cases also telephone contact.

Instead, try to obtain more sober and relevant information through government agencies.

Instead of finding your own solutions to the virus through pondering and worrying, I recommend that you take a look at the advice on these websites. This is advice based on the current knowledge of the authorities about the virus and its risk of infection.

 

I CANNOT SLEEP DUE TO THE CORONA VIRUS - WHAT CAN I DO?

If you are struggling to sleep due to the coronavirus, is it because you are lying and worrying about it when you should actually be sleeping? As mentioned above, there are good techniques you can use to reduce brooding and worry.

In the following section, I will demonstrate two techniques; one technique can help you shorten the sleep time, while the other technique can help change nightmares, if you e.g. have recurring nightmares around the topic.

Both techniques have been researched and evaluated as very effective for their purposes.

These two techniques, as well as other sleep tips, can be found here: «Help I can not sleep! Get 4 pieces of advice from a psychologist» (Norwegian).

 

TECHNIQUE FOR SHORTENING SLEEPING TIME

This breathing technique is a technique that is an adapted version of a technique developed by the Spanish psychologist Mariano Choliz in 1995. His technique was tested on 23 people who spent an average of 70 minutes falling asleep before applying the method. After use, the same people spent an average of only 13 minutes falling asleep. The technique is as follows:

 

  1. Exhale and inhale three times as usual.
  2. On the third inhale, exhale extra deeply, and hold your breath for as long as you can.
  3. You can count calmly downwards (10, 9, 8… etc.) while holding your breath. If this is not enough to keep you from pondering and worrying, you can make it even harder by, for example, counting down from 1000 with 7 in intervals (1000, 993, 986, 979… etc).
  4. Repeat until you fall asleep.

 

TECHNIQUE FOR GETTING CONTROL OVER NIGHTMARES

This method is simply about writing down a new and less frightening version of the nightmare. Then practice this during the day, so that at night it takes the place of the nightmare.

Here's how to proceed:

 

  1. Write down a detailed description of the nightmare.
  2. Then you change the elements that scare you. Feel free to write about the action so that it becomes more neutral or maybe even positive. It may seem that the method is most effective unless the new version is totally different from the original.
  3. Write down the new version.
  4. Practice the modified version during the day, in calm conditions.
  5. Before going to bed, you can read through the dream one last time. Before you turn off the light, instruct yourself: "Tonight it's this version I'm going to dream about."

If you follow these steps, you increase the chance that the new version will appear in your dream sleep. If you do not get results the first night, feel free to try for a week, and evaluate after this.

If you are wondering how to talk to your children about the coronavirus, we refer you to the Clinic for Crisis Psychology, which has written a very detailed and helpful text on the subject: «What can we say to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)?» (Norwegian)

- Written by psychologist Kyrre Dyregrov

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