How and why you should ease your Ebola fears

U.S. officials speak to reporters at a press conference Oct. 1 their visit to see firsthand the impact of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.

U.S. officials speak to reporters at a press conference Oct. 1 about their visit to Liberia to see firsthand the impact of the Ebola epidemic. Photo by USArmyAfrica via flickr.

The Ebola virus sounds scary.  The headlines about the disease are frightening:  it can be fatal, it is spread through bodily fluids, there’s no vaccine.  The news reports can cause alarm, and misinformation can be easily spread through social media and other Internet sites. And now that a person treated in a U.S. hospital has died from Ebola, people seem to be more on edge about the disease and about the possibility of transmission.

Experts say don’t panic. They say that you don’t have a chance of catching it. They say that it’s highly infectious but not easily contagious. But that doesn’t necessarily reduce fears or anxieties when there’s a report of Ebola-like symptoms reported at a U.S. hospital.

It’s important to always stay alert, to be informed and take precautions if you think you may be at risk for coming into contact with any virus. But to help maintain emotional well-being, it’s critical to ease Ebola fears by reviewing the facts, maintaining perspective, and upholding hope.

Review the facts

Ebola-CDCPublic health experts and government agencies are sharing what is called “risk-reduction messaging.”  Keeping people informed with facts and engaging the community is key to successfully controlling the risk of outbreaks.  This should not be taken as a sign of needing to live in fear.

Staying focused on the actual data–not the worst case scenarios–is essential. People keep asking if the disease COULD become airborne? Officials have said yes, anything is possible, but knowing how viruses spread and how Ebola has spread, they remain confident that it is not likely.

“The rate of change [with Ebola] is slower than most viruses, and most viruses don’t change how they spread,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters recently. “That is not to say it’s impossible that it could change [to become airborne]. That would be the worst-case scenario. We would know that by looking at … what is happening in Africa. That is why we have scientists from the CDC on the ground tracking that.”

The World Health Organization is actively surveying Ebola disease outbreaks and has been raising awareness in a global way about risk factors for infection, but this sort of messaging is not meant  to petrify us.  Be sure to not fall prey to rumor and misinformation;  know the facts and check the facts.

Maintain perspective

The news helps to bring us the facts, but following details about a disease too closely can be overwhelming because it can be sensationalized and can feel as if this is the only thing going on in our world – and it’s not.  Remember that it is the most devastating stories which tend to make the headlines most often, and then they are repeated over and over.  Turning away from the news and focusing on what is going on in our more immediate world is one way to ease fear. Keeping involved in usual activities in order to stay engaged in daily life routines helps to maintain perspective and to move forward effectively.

Uphold hope

Just as importantly, we must maintain hope and optimism that we will be OK, that our family and friends will be safe, and that this disease will remain controlled. Staying stuck in the negatives, the fears or the what-ifs interferes with daily life routines and can reduce ability to cope with other stresses. Helping yourself and others around you to stay energized and motivated to carry on with normal life activities is key.

This isn’t the first time we have experienced an unknown, scary infectious disease. Cases of avian flu, West Nile disease, swine flu, and others have all caused fear and some panic. People feared the worst then as well.  Although some did get sick and some did die, the disease outbreaks were contained and managed. Resilience research teaches us that when we make it through one adversity, we can more readily cope positively with other adversities in the future.

Additional tips we have learned from past outbreaks of disease which have helped individuals  to help stay calm and minimize stress included:

Stay healthy

A healthy lifestyle–including proper diet and exercise–is your best defense against any threat. Adopting hygienic habits such as washing your hands regularly will minimize your exposure to germs and disease sources. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions.

Keep connected

Maintaining social networks and activities can help maintain a sense of normalcy, and connection provides valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. This may also be an ideal time to become more involved with your community. Volunteering and donating to aid groups fighting the disease in Africa may help boost you feel less helpless about the disease, helping you to feel connected with some solutions. (Here is a list of recognized non-governmental organizations that are accepting donations.)

Seek additional help

Sometimes the feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious or scared can interfere with life, work or relationships. When that happens, it may take more work than tuning out news and staying positive. Talk to a psychologist or other mental health professional who can help you better understand your fears or feelings. The SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline is another resource for people experiencing signs of distress related to the Ebola outbreak.  This helpline provides 24/7 year round crisis counseling and support at 1-800-985-5990.


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