The psychologist Silvia Martínez tells us about the emotional effects of excessive fear of COVID-19.
There is no doubt that whatever groups that try to sow doubt through conspiracy theories say, the coronavirus pandemic is a reality. It’s more; As we know, it is a phenomenon linked to new risks that we did not have until a few months ago.
However, it cannot be denied that we are not always capable of reaching a realistic understanding of the risk posed by the virus. This causes many people to suffer emotional disturbances due to having developed an excessive fear of the pandemic. It is precisely on this subject that we will speak with the interviewee who accompanies us on this occasion, the psychologist Silvia Martínez Muñoz.
Silvia Martínez: a psychological perspective on the excessive fear of the coronavirus
Silvia Martínez Muñoz is a psychologist based in Malaga and specialized in emotional problems. In this interview, she tells us about the effects on mental health that the media and social impact produced by the coronavirus has, which can lead some people to develop fear and anxiety problems.
What short-term emotional repercussions can be always aware of the risk of contagion?
Always being aware of this risk can generate fear, worry and depressive states. It has been shown through scientific studies that there is a relationship between stress, produced by these negative emotions, and a decrease in the immune response.
On the other hand, the Spanish health authorities warned earlier this summer a 20% increase in mental disorders due to confinement.
From what you have been seeing as a psychologist, do people with anxiety disorders experience this pandemic crisis in a different way?
From my clinical experience, in these months of confinement and post-confinement there has been an increase in the number of cases of hypochondria, in which anxiety and anguish are very present. It is a disorder in which there is a constant and obsessive concern for one’s own health, and a tendency to exaggerate suffering, whether real or imagined.
Could having to spend several weeks leaving the house very little reinforce the fear of the coronavirus, causing the risk to be exaggerated?
In principle, it would not have to, from my point of view. This situation has created a lot of uncertainty and I think the key may be to reformulate that uncertainty, that is, to take advantage of the confinement and the current situation to gain momentum, see the positive side and develop our being, our profession, etc.
There are people who during confinement have practiced sports at home, or have even been able to improve their dietary guidelines, and in general, they have seen confinement as an opportunity to be able to do new things or even start studying.
There are several voices that have spoken about an overinformation about COVID that has been able to increase the feeling of fear and concern. There is a term that is becoming very popular these months. It’s called Doomscrolling, and it refers to an addiction that many people have developed because of the bad news. It is best to consult authorized sources on this issue, such as the WHO (World Health Organization).
In your opinion, could the typical scaremongering of the media be creating an unwarranted fear of the virus?
Yes, without any doubt. Generally, the people with the greatest sense of fear are usually the elderly, who are a risk group, and those who usually watch the news more. Although there are many people, not only the elderly, who watch the news every day and are distressed.
It is true that the virus exists, but as I have commented previously, stress and fear cause the immune system to decrease in effectiveness, and we know that it is a very important aspect for the body to be able to defeat viruses and bacteria, which surround and have always surrounded us.
What advice would you give to manage this discomfort, linked to anxiety and fear of contagion?
The main advice I would give would be to reduce the time you are exposed to the news on this topic. I mean, if a person who normally watches two newscasts a day and reads newspapers on the Internet wants to reduce the feeling of fear, it would be advisable to watch a newscast a day or read a newspaper a day. You can be informed, but it is not advisable to be over-informed, as this type of news affects your mood.
It is also highly recommended that you go to a psychologist to express how you feel and try to reduce these levels of anguish and anxiety, which may be affecting the quality of sleep, food digestion and low mood, among other aspects .
For these states of anxiety or fear, it is very good to carry out some physical activity that the person likes, be it taking a walk in the afternoon, doing a specific sport, etc. There are studies that affirm the relationship between physical activity and subjective well-being, regardless of the age of the person. In addition, more endorphins, the so-called hormones of happiness, are secreted in this way. In general, you have to spend time doing things that you like and make you feel good about.
Do you think that, spontaneously and without help, most people will adapt to spending seasons of confinement or semi-confinement if the pandemic crisis drags on?
Publications are already coming out about the psychological effects of confinement, and this possibility would not be highly recommended, since we are social beings and we need contact with others. Being a mandatory isolation, confinement implies breaking with our day after day, our routines, leisure … which generates a significant psychological burden.
I believe that in this sense, other less traumatic alternatives for the population should be sought, such as confinement only of people by the virus or similar, in the event that this possibility arises again.