Ebola Fears: What Is Healthy?

Men in protective suites inspecting equipment
Image credit: photo by Margaux Olverd on Unsplash.

Even if you never watch the news, there is no way to avoid the recent worldwide health scare that is Ebola. With such a high fatality rate and awful symptoms, it is only natural to fear the onset of such a deadly disease.

But what is a natural fear, and what is not? What does it mean to have a natural and manageable fear versus a fear that has turned into something else – something that takes over our thoughts and lives?

If you struggle with generalized anxiety disorder, phobias or have other fears or anxiety, you may be especially vulnerable to heightened fears of this disease. Of course, the more we see the deadly evidence of the disease on television, or hear of its dangers, the more it triggers our own fears.

Even in the medical community itself we see a rise in the fear-based language. Indeed, the responses of the government may contribute to our increased anxiety, especially when the emergency responses cause more harm than good.

And so it is right and natural to see Ebola as a threat. Catherine Belling, an associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and author of the book A Condition of Doubt, The Meanings of Hypochondria, says that it is perfectly rational to fear illness:

We all fear getting sick, on some level. What hypochondria is, then, is the inability to put that very rational fear into context, where you can continue to function normally rather than being paralyzed by it.

Catherine Belling, an associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Professor Belling goes on to say that it is “entirely rational to be afraid of Ebola. When it crosses the line is when someone who is in, for example, New York, won’t leave their apartment because they’re afraid of getting Ebola. They’re incapable of recognizing that there’s truly an incredibly minuscule likelihood of getting Ebola."

So how do we know when we have crossed that line? If your pre-occupation with Ebola is…

  • Interfering with work, social, or family plans?
  • Preventing you from something that you might regularly do?
  • Causing you to cancel a trip or meeting?
  • Causing others to question your behavior?
  • Won’t let you get away from thoughts about it?
  • Necessitating updates via phone and the television very frequently so as not to “miss something”?
  • Causing you to spend hours on the internet and / or consistently watch news reports?

Above all, though, you know yourself best. Do you feel as if you are too preoccupied with fears of Ebola? How often are you thinking of it?

If you do feel like you it might be taking up too much of your time, or if you feel emotionally disturbed by fears of contracting Ebola, then explore the following tips.

Limit Or Eliminate Television And Internet News

Get clear on what you need from the news when you do watch. Getting good information is important, and one wants to be informed, but to spend time watching news or reading articles could further activate anxiety.

Especially if you know that you might have a tendency toward internet addiction, you will need to determine what you are seeking. Check in with yourself when you hear reports: is your anxiety level rising? Do you feel like this is harming rather than helping? You know yourself best, and what might be too much for one person might not be too much for another person.

Take Care Of Yourself emotionally

What makes you feel good about yourself in the rest of your life? If you are feeling unfulfilled in other areas of your life, then Ebola may fill that void. Think of some things that you enjoy doing. (Use our tips for finding out what you love here.) If you can focus on something that is more enjoyable or fun, it will help to relieve your mind and minimize your fear.

What Helps You To Feel Safer?

It’s certainly important to be cautious, and if you take standard precautions, it might help you to feel more at ease. For example, try washing hands more frequently.

Or, if shaking hands feels too uncomfortable, then just don’t do it. It’s not that important. If it’s something small, and not going to interfere with your life, then don’t do it. (However, if you want to find a way to feel comfortable shaking hands, then that can be worked on, too.)

Introducing Reality

How many people have contracted Ebola versus how many people are in the U.S. who have not contracted this virus? What is the real likelihood of dying from this disease? Definitely worse odds than winning Mega-Millions!

Thought-Stopping

Learning to recognize our thoughts and neutralize them can be very helpful with managing fear. We can start by asking “is this thought hurting me or helping me?” That question will help to stop the thoughts that raise anxiety in their tracks. This does not mean that we minimize the fear ; we simply notice the thought that triggered it, and then decide that the thought is not something that we need to hold onto.

Help from a trusted therapist

A psychotherapist can help you to determine what is a natural fear of Ebola and what isn’t.

In addition, and most importantly, they help you to work through the thoughts around your fears, and allow for more space in which to thrive and be happy.

At Nassau Guidance, our trained and skilled therapists are experienced in all types of fears, anxieties and phobias, we want to see you live your most amazing life. Call us if you need to talk.

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