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Don’t Stress: 4 Ways to Stay Calm in Infectious Disease Outbreak Situations
There is a reason wellness experts like Andrew Weil, MD, suggest turning off the news. It can be stressful to watch due to the focus on violence, death and disaster.
Prolonged stress has been associated with many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.1
One news topic that can be particularly stressful is that of infectious disease outbreaks. Measles, hepatitis A and Ebola are just a few of the recent disease outbreaks that have made headlines.
Media Plays Up Fear in Infectious Disease Outbreak Situations
While infectious disease outbreaks are important to be aware of, the ways the media portrays them can create unnecessary fear.
Last year, Yotam Ophir, Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania, published results of his research into the coverage of outbreaks in U.S. newspapers.
Ophir suggested that coverage of outbreaks can lead to feelings of uncertainty and lack of perceived control. He also found that while there were many articles about disease outbreaks, very few offered solutions on how one should think about protecting themselves.2
In other words, not having the information needed to make decisions on how to protect yourself during a disease outbreak can be stressful and potentially damaging to your health.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, also recognizes that infectious disease outbreaks can cause stress and lead to more serious consequences.3
Four Ways to Manage Outbreak-Related Stress and Anxiety
In addition to eating well and getting regular exercise and sleep, here are a few tips to help you stay calm the next time you hear about an infectious disease outbreak of concern:
Have updated emergency kits and a plan
Just like preparing for natural disasters helps us feel more in control, having a plan in place for infectious disease outbreaks can also help. Ensure you’re prepared for an infectious disease emergency at home and at your place of employment.
Preparedness includes having enough emergency kits or supplies to cover all family members and/or employees. This ensures items such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant are available to help prevent person-to-person transmission.
Here are a couple resources to get you started at work and home:
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) Toolkit: http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/sites/default/files/public/downloads/cidrap-shrm-hr-pandemic-toolkit.pdf
San Francisco Department of Public Health Outbreak Preparation Overview: https://www.sfcdcp.org/health-alerts-emergencies/prepare-for-an-infectious-disease-emergency/
Protect yourself from disease outbreaks
Vaccination, hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and safe food handling practices are great ways to help prevent the spread of infection.
Many of the infectious diseases we fear are also vaccine preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have many resources to help you learn what vaccines are available, how to properly wash hands and prepare food safely.
Get the facts on recent outbreaks
Seek out credible sources of health information that offer the facts about who is really at risk and solutions on how to protect yourself and your employees.
Know the signs of stress and anxiety, and seek medical attention if you need help managing them
If you or someone you know shows signs of stress, such as having trouble sleeping or relaxing, worrying excessively or crying frequently for several days or weeks, seek professional help right away.
SAMHSA offers a variety of resources and also recommends contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) if you or someone you know mentions or threatens hurting themselves or someone else.
1. Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior. MayoClinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987. Updated April 4, 2019. Accessed July 11, 2019.
2. Ophir Y. Coverage of Epidemics in American Newspapers Through the Lens of the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Framework. Health Security. 2018;16(3), 147–157. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/hs.2017.0106.
3. Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks. Samhsa.gov. https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma14-4885.pdf. Accessed May 3, 2019.