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The virus of fear and how to avoid it

​It appeared to hit our shores well before confirmed cases of COVID-19 started to multiply. Quicker than the virus itself, it spread rapidly throughout our cities and towns causing supermarket shelves to empty, obsessive surveillance of the news, and words like ‘lockdowns' and ‘quarantines' starting to dominate conversations.

Fear like this can be described as a virus. It seems to spread rapidly throughout society causing increasing levels of anxiety and hysteria, passing from one person to the next.

And this virus has well and truly gripped Australia. This is not to say we shouldn't fear COVID-19. It is something that we should take very seriously when looking at the proliferating infection rate and death toll around the world. However, when fear becomes overwhelming, it can make us act irrationally, such as hoarding food, medical supplies or stigmatising others. Plus, it can also contribute to mental illness such as anxiety.

Why does fear spread?

In the animal world, when a prey animal senses a threat, they emit silent and invisible ‘alarm pheromones'. This signals to other animals that there is a threat nearby and suddenly invokes a ‘flight' response. Research has suggested that we also have the same chemical alert system. We can sense the threat and our brains prepare to react.

However, through our evolution it's argued that our response to situations isn't that well developed when we feel a loss of control. COVID-19 is a new disease and it's uncertain what the full impact will look like. It's normal to feel helpless in times of increasing uncertainty about the future. However, such feelings can lead to extreme reactions, like panic buying or constant anxiety.

What can we do about it?

It's impossible to have control over everything that poses a risk – both in times like these and in everyday life. Instead, experts recommend doing what you can to regain control over your fears without going overboard and contributing to the hysteria. This includes:

1). Listen to the advice of the government and health officials.

It's important to take the advice from official sources of information and limit others. This helps us to avoid being influenced by ‘fake' news, which could cause unnecessary stress and irrational responses.

2). Limit the time you spend watching the news.

If you're constantly refreshing the news page on your laptop or watching the news channel throughout the day, take a step back. Right now, obsessively watching the news is incredibly tempting, but all your doing is adding to your anxiety. Set aside time to watch the news, take what you need from it and then switch it off.

3). Surround yourself with positive people.

Try to avoid being around people who constantly discuss COVID-19 in a negative way. Like with the news, constantly hearing about it will do nothing but increase stress and anxiety levels.

4). Take care of yourself.

Even in times like these, we can still set aside time in our day to do something we enjoy. This could be some sort of exercise, meditation, cooking and so on. Making an effort to do things we take pleasure in can remind ourselves that there's still other things in the world to appreciate and enjoy.

Read more

While 2020 was a turbulent ride, job vacancies are now surging, and the growing demand for talent highlights as a nation we’ve catapulted out of survival and into a high growth phase. Read more about post-pandemic workforce demand here.

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