Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Four Thoughts That Make You Freak Out About Coronavirus

We may be in the midst of a pandemic, but it doesn’t mean you need to panic.

Jeswin Thomas/Pexels
Source: Jeswin Thomas/Pexels

COVID-19 seems pretty inescapable at the moment, not just as a virus, but also as a newspaper headline and all-around media bogeyman.

Some news stories could be accused of hyperbole at best and scaremongering at worst, whilst the population at large appears to have abandoned caution (which is both sensible and appropriate) for anxiety (which is not). Why is that and what can be done about it?

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) says that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturb you. It states that there are four specific types of thought (or beliefs) that can disturb you in the face of any given event or situation. So, it’s not the event that disturbs you, it’s your specific beliefs about that event that disturb you.

As an event, Coronavirus is a pretty big deal, but what could the beliefs that are freaking you out about it be?

Thought Number One: I absolutely must not catch the Coronavirus

At first glance, this may seem pretty sensible. But, it’s not true because, despite sensible precautions, it’s still possible to catch it; it doesn’t make sense to say you mustn’t catch it just because you don’t want to catch it, and it doesn’t help you. Instead it makes you panic and panic buy; asset stripping the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies, clearing them bare of facemasks, hand sanitiser, and toilet roll whilst also stockpiling food like a survivalist who’s heard we’ve hit DEFCON 1.

Try instead: the much more sensible “I would prefer not to catch the Coronavirus but there is no reason why that must not happen.” This is a belief that would allow you to take sensible precautions rather than panic purchase every little thing. It also means that you won’t feel the need to travel on public transport with a see-through bucket on your head.

Thought Number Two: The Coronavirus is a total nightmare

This belief has you blowing things out of proportion and making the situation seem worse than it actually is. Here, you will not only exaggerate both the symptoms and their severity but also the likelihood of you catching it in the first place. You will restrict your daily activities unnecessarily and run, screaming in terror, from anyone who looks a little bit ‘ill’.

Try instead: “It will be bad if I catch the Coronavirus, but it won’t be terrible.” This belief gives you a sense of perspective. It means you won’t be seeing danger on every surface (or in every stranger) and you’ll remember that, for most, the symptoms of COVID-19 are going to be mild and easy to recover from.

Thought Number Three: I’m going to die if I catch the Coronavirus

Steady on now. According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, the global death rate is 3.4 percent. Sad though this is, it is a very small figure and it has only affected a very specific portion of society. Clearly, if you are elderly or have an underlying health condition (or are both) then your levels of precaution may be more stringent than most. But, for the rest of you, if you do catch COVID-19, whilst the symptoms will range from the mild to the challenging, and it would be best for you to self-isolate whilst your recover, it is highly likely that you will actually recover.

Try instead: “It will be difficult to deal with, but I know I will get through it.” This will shift your mindset from “OMG it’s going to happen and it’s going to kill me,” to “Well, if it happens, I won’t like it, but I will deal with it to the best of my ability.” You will not need to update your will, nor will you need to say goodbye to your loved ones.

Thought Number Four: People who have coughs and colds are plague-carrying scum

First of all, Coronavirus is not a plague and, secondly, the people who have it are not scum. Nor are those poor, hapless individuals who sound a bit rough and are sitting somewhere near you on the bus, tram or train. Stop staring at them like that. It’s not their fault they caught a cold and you don’t need to follow them whilst ringing a bell and shouting out, “unclean, unclean, unclean!”

Try instead: “People who cough and sneeze are not plague-carrying scum, they are worthwhile, fallible human beings.” This belief will allow you to feel empathy and display sympathy. You don’t have to hug them, but neither do you need to hate on them based on the state of their health, their ethnicity or their recent vacation choices.

REBT says that when you are unhealthily anxious, you will overestimating the probability of a threat occurring whilst at the same time underestimating your ability to deal with it. This means you won’t be thinking, feeling or acting in ways that are helpful or rational. However, when you are healthily concerned, you don’t overestimate the probability of the same threat occurring and don’t underestimate your ability to deal with. And with this, your reactions will be more reasonable.

So, stop self-isolating, step out of your panic room (and your comfort zone), wash your hands properly, on a regular basis, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and you will more than likely be okay. Temper your fear with reason and embrace the facts. Also, turn the TV off and stop reading the newspapers for now, as you don’t need any of that negativity in your life.

Coronavirus facts

At the time of writing, worldwide there have been 108,828 cases and 3,662 deaths due to COVID-19. Of all the active cases, 86% are in a mild condition and 14% are in a serious or critical condition. 60, 924 people have so far recovered and/or been discharged from hospital. The odds, it seems, are in your favour. 1



More from Daniel Fryer M.Sc., MBSCH
More from Psychology Today
More from Daniel Fryer M.Sc., MBSCH
More from Psychology Today