Risk management and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

(NEW YORK) — With confirmed cases of COVID-19 increasing across the US and orders in place to shut schools and work from home, several people have sought treatment for mental health.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the way people are living their lives: closed businesses, less time outdoors, and less contact with work colleagues all affect a person’s daily routine and sense of normalcy. All of this can lead to an increase in anxiety.

David Ropeik is an author who has studied human beings’ relationship to risk. Ropeik says the way people perceive risk and manage their fears can help ease some of the anxiety they might be feeling during the novel coronavirus pandemic. He explains this on ABC News Radio’s “Perspective” podcast with ABC’s Cheri Preston.

Listen to the full interview and the rest of this past week’s highlights here.

“Don’t be a 24/7 information victim and see every little tidbit as a sign the sky is falling,” Ropeik contends.

He acknowledges that fear is a natural reaction to the rising numbers of confirmed cases and deaths in the United States, but hopes people will use that data and information as tools to help reduce anxiety, not increase it:

“It’s super important to try and identify reliable sources of information that you can go back to, like the CDC. While there’s still vast uncertainty, we can start to see that information is going to help us figure out what to do before the spike comes… Now is a good time to realize that getting information from reliable sources is a good way to protect your health.”

Ropeik wants people to process their emotions and then resume some usual activities while they consume reliable data and reporting:

“This is another thing that cognitive psychiatrist suggests: give yourself 15 or 20 minutes every half day to freak out. And the rest of the time you go, ‘I got my freak out period out of the way now. Right now, I have to figure out what I’m making for dinner.’”

Ropeik reminds people that their risk perception is useful and can serve as a reminder not to become overwhelmed by emotion, but to take practical action to keep ourselves safe, like washing ours hands and being cautious of what we touch:

“I used to say to myself when I would walk my dog, I wish I could be like him, just in the moment. It’s a great role model and a great reminder. But what will happen very quickly is our subconscious risk perception system designed differently than a dog’s will kick in. Yeah, the dog’s having a great time, but oh my god, what did I just touch? It can be a reminder. They can be like the bell that goes off that says, ‘See, look out for you.’”
 
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