Word-Of-the-Week #815: Control

March 19, 2020 by  

Control – ability to manage one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will.

How are you feeling about this time of uncertainty? Are you obsessing about it? Or are you coping with it?

This LA Times article Why you should stop obsessing about coronavirus news, and how to do it by Deborah Netburn felt like a great follow up to last week’s Faith. I am using excerpts to keep it short because I’m heeding her advice of limiting consumption of media intake.

“It’s 1 in the morning and you can’t stop reading about the coronavirus. You look for answers on websites you trust, along with some you’re not so sure about. And when you can’t find conclusive information, you keep searching, clicking and reading. 

If you have descended into a coronavirus rabbit hole, you are not alone. It’s only natural to feel anxious about the evolving coronavirus situation. It is a novel threat that has caused more than 4,200 deaths worldwide.  

But experts say there is something else that is adding to our collective anxiety around the potential pandemic: fear of the unknown. 

“Our brains are wired to pay additional attention to uncertainty,” said David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of “Your Brain at Work.” “It is something we all have an issue with, although it affects some people more than others.” 

And when it comes to coronavirus, there is a lot of uncertainty. Things are changing so quickly that it can be hard to know how best to respond to keep yourself and others safe. 

Rock said that in the face of an ambiguous situation — maybe fine, maybe bad — our brains automatically bet on it being very bad, just in case. 

“It’s an insurance policy,” he said. “If you think you hear a bear in the woods, it’s better to be safe and start running than wait until you see one running at you.” 

One way people try to exert control during times of uncertainty is to increase their media consumption, said Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychological science and public health at UC Irvine. 

“When there is a lot of ambiguity and a lot of uncertainty, people are drawn to the media,” she said. “It’s a cycle that is very hard to break out of.” 

Looking to the media in a time of public crisis can be useful. Trusted sources can help you make informed decisions to protect your health. They can also counteract harmful rumors and alleviate distress by providing accurate information that puts the threat in context, Silver said. (For example, it’s helpful to be reminded that about 80% of those infected with the new coronavirus have symptoms that are mild at worst.) 

However, Silver’s research over the last two decades has also shown that in times of collective trauma like natural disasters and mass shootings, the nonstop media cycle can also cause people to overestimate the severity of the threat to their own community — and that leads to psychological and even physical distress. 

“The media is a double-edged sword,” she said. “It is the mechanism by which we get important, validated information. But at the same time, we need to protect ourselves from the onslaught of the 24/7 news cycle.” 

So, what’s a healthy dose of media that will keep you informed without needlessly stressing you out?  

Rock’s advice is to limit your coronavirus media consumption to 10 minutes a day, not 10 minutes an hour. 

“The more we can feel like we are in control, the calmer we’ll be,” he said. “And one thing you can control is your media intake.” 

Silver said she reminds her own friends and family to stay informed but to avoid repetitive stories with little or no new information, because they can amplify one’s sense of stress and doom. 

“Remember that the expertise of TV and radio is to keep you listening and to engage you,” he said. 

 “Things are very different this week than they were last week, and we don’t really know where things will be next week,” she said. “It is challenging and stressful to cope with all this uncertainty, but overexposure to media is not likely to help.”

I’m choosing to have faith that “this too shall pass.” I’m taking control of my thoughts and actions. I’m being cautious. And I’m playing golf to feel some sense of normalcy. Plus just being outside lifts my spirits!

This week’s focus is about feeling in control. Have you chosen to limit your media intake? Are you taking precautions? Can you have a sense of calm about all the uncertainty?

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