The Ebola Frenzy: 5 Tools to Go from Frenzy to Fearless

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The recent Ebola outbreak has created a media and public frenzy. Edy Nathan MA, LCSW, speaks about the psychology behind the fast moving disease of fear that is spreading faster than the virus.

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When psychological fear is taken out of the Ebola equation a type of calm sets in.

Fraught with anxiety and fear, people in the United States are scared. Combining ignorance with media hype, people are infected with misinformation of exactly how Ebola is caught and is spread. This creates and encourages psychological hysteria.

Truth. One man died from the Ebola virus on US soil. Life is precious, and surely even the loss of one life is a sensitive subject when it comes to a disease of this magnitude. Yet, the mass reaction is not about the loss of his life, rather who was exposed to him, did he fly or travel recently, potentially infecting others and were the health care workers who tended to him at risk of contracting the disease and spreading it.

What are the psychological effects that infectious and potentially fatal diseases have on the population at large? Ebola has been compared to HIV/AIDS, yet there is a difference in the collective reaction to each disease. Somehow, AIDS was viewed as a different type of disease since it was noted as mostly affecting the gay male and drug abusing populations. What is seen here is a manic frenzy. Like the witch hunts in Salem, irrational fear is aroused when people don’t understand what is happening. Fear spreads faster than the disease. In a culture where there is an inherent desire to be in charge of the environment, the body and the mind, facing the unknown and the abject fear of death causes an even greater craving for safety and control.

Here are 5 tools to calm the fear:

1. Get the facts about Ebola before thinking that anyone who sneezes is riddled with the disease. Keep the factual information on hand. Sticking to the facts can be self-soothing.
2. When the fear bubbles up, counter it with a list of the facts.
3. What can be controlled? Breathing is controlled, choosing to hold it in, or let it go. Choosing what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to are also arenas of choice. Choosing not to listen to the internet or news shows combat the media’s desire to create shock value to keep interest up.
4. If feeling unwell, go the doctor and get checked. Allay fear with facts from a doctor you trust.
5. To stop the rapid firing of thoughts try the rubberband exercise. Put a rubber band around the wrist. If the thought about Ebola arises, snap the rubberband, say “Stop IT” and change the thought to a memory of something beautiful or calming. Even a color. Nathan states, “ sometimes the thoughts need to be interrupted and this exercise allows you to do just that. Interrupt the agitation with a new action.”

When psychological fear is taken out of the Ebola equation a type of calm sets in. Facts are disseminated in an educational and organized manner, and rather than reacting to the chaos of the unknown, the collective can stop the reactivity through knowledge. Move from obsession to orientation.

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About Edy Nathan:
Edy Nathan is a licensed psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience specializing in grief. For two seasons she was the therapist on the A&E TV Show, “Psychic Kids”. She holds Masters from both New York University and Fordham University. She has post-graduate training from the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, The Gestalt Center and the Jungian Institute. She is a certified EMDR practitioner, regression therapist, certified hypnotherapist and grief expert. To find out more, visit EdyNathan.com.

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