NEW YORK CITY — With the latest outbreak of Ebola sweeping West Africa and the arrival of this serious virus on the shores of the United States, anxiety is high as individuals fear for their health, and the health of their loved ones.
But what do we do about this fear? Do we lock ourselves in our homes, avoiding any possible contact with the outside world? Do we dress in hazmat suits, like a 21st century Boy in the Bubble? How do we, as New Yorkers who live, work and travel in such close proximity to each other, handle this new stressor?
The simple answer to all of these questions is: “keep calm and carry on."
Let me explain why.
Knowledge is power
So much of the media coverage has focused on the extent of the outbreak in West Africa and how it is affecting the population there. In addition, there are more, troubling, revelations that a man who traveled from Liberia to Dallas died of Ebola — and that two of his nurses have contracted the virus while attending to him. Also, DNAinfo reported the story about a Brooklyn man who self-quarantined himself after his contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.
It’s easy to make a leap in our minds that Ebola is everywhere and it’s only a matter of time before it strikes us.
However, a closer look at the numbers suggests this just isn't true. The number of deaths from Ebola in the US so far is one. The number of “laboratory-confirmed” cases is two. Statistically, bees are going to kill more Americans this year than Ebola, and not even killer bees.
To be sure, if you are living in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, there is reason for concern. But for the vast majority of you reading this story, this does not apply to you. Knowing the numbers involved often helps people connect to the reality of the risks posed by Ebola, and how low they truly are for New Yorkers. Take solace in that, while also having empathy for those truly suffering from the outbreak.
Just as commercial jet airline crashes garner a disproportionate amount of media coverage, the same is happening with Ebola. Do not conflate coverage with risk. There are many other, more reasonable risks to be concerned (not panicked) about.
Connecting to Other Anxieties
A story like the Ebola outbreak, and its associated panic, often triggers people who are already feeling anxiety in their lives. Whether it's anxiety about work, relationships, safety, our family or other health concerns, it’s helpful to reflect on the true roots of our worry, fear and discomfort. If we are able to go beneath the surface and connect to the origins of our anxiety, we may be able to uncover the negative beliefs we may hold about our safety, security and/or our sense of control.
What can you do about Ebola anxiety?
1. Unless you are certain that you’ve had direct exposure to someone who is infected with Ebola, do not bother looking up the symptoms. You’ll just convince yourself that you’re getting sick, when in fact, you are not infected with the virus.
If you do begin to feel sick, chances are it's the flu or some other non-fatal virus/illness making the rounds. Do seek medical help if that’s the case.
2. Use moderation in how much news about Ebola you digest. Limit your news to sources you trust. Disable any news alerts you may have around Ebola. If something significantly changes in the reporting of this story, you’ll know. Besides DNAinfo (of course), I like eboladeeply.org’s non-sensational aggregation of the Ebola news.
3. Use a “check-in” to see if you are anxious about Ebola coming to America, or whether the news about Ebola has triggered already-present anxieties, or negative beliefs you may have.
4. Seek help from a mental health practitioner if you experience anxiety or panic attacks. This usually indicates that there is a bigger issue that needs attention.