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TALK TO US

Social Contagion: The Other Flu

A huge amount of information and misinformation about the novel coronavirus is circulating. It can make us fearful, and more likely to engage in panic behaviors.
 

  

By Dr. Ken Fung

下面是本文的中文版。

At present, two things are spreading at different rates in Hong Kong and around the globe: the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and panic behaviours such as hoarding food and household items. The second seems to be far more contagious than the first.

Scientists are working around the clock to learn more about the virus. This includes its origins, how it is transmitted, and effective treatment and prevention. It is a lot of new information to absorb in a short time. It may be overwhelming and can be misunderstood.

Confusing Signals

Different agencies have handled the facts in different ways. Some have taken more stringent steps to prevent the virus from spreading, whereas others have taken a more measured approach. It sends confusing signals about how dangerous – or not – the illness might be. It can leave the public wondering as to what is the true nature of the outbreak.

These information gaps can lead to speculation. In addition to factual medical information, plenty of inaccurate and outright ridiculous claims are also making the rounds. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference, and it is easy to get caught up in the fear or panic they might cause.

How information is presented is has an effect on us as well. Counters that dramatically scroll up to the number of infected and dead each time you view them are meant to be thrilling. Spin-off titles keep us reading, drawing us deeper down information rabbit holes that may or may not be accurate.

Who Can We Believe?

The outcome is that many of us feel anxious, confused, and even fearful. We don’t know who or what to believe. It goes so far as to cause division among people who react to the situation in different ways. There are those who have “fled” the city for safer shores, or those who are hoarding household products. It is all a result of the information they have used to make their decisions.

In times like this, it can be difficult to stay calm and make rational decisions. Use the following three methods to build your own strong psychological “immune system” in the face of information overload.

Number 1: Question the source

We receive so much information that we may not always be able to determine immediately if it is authentic and factual. Stop and think about the information you are receiving. What is the source? Is it a credible source? Is it fact-checked? Is the person who wrote it an expert or have experience in a related field? What motivation might they have for writing it? Unless the information is from a credible source, there is no need to trust it or react immediately. During periods of instability, it is easy for those with other motivations to use our fear for their purposes. Resist the temptation to pass on unreliable or far-fetched information.

Number 2: Compare notes

Hong Kong is going through a long period of social unrest, pressure, and division. It is understandable that we have developed a sense of distrust and insecurity. Before making any decision, you may wish to discuss with friends or family members. The point is not that their opinions must be reliable, but to stimulate thinking and dialogue. Do not blindly accommodate your conditioned reflexes. Rather, seek different opinions to help question the validity of your fears.

Number 3: Fight the feeling

Irrational decisions are typically made because we feel upset, scared and anxious. Therefore, when we encounter negative emotions, it is best to try and maintain a relaxed psychological state. This way, we have more psychological resources to face unexpected events. Here are some suggestions to help you decompress:

  • Log off. Don’t let yourself browse news and information for extended periods. It arouses feelings of fear and anxiety, keeping us from relaxing.
  • Maintain a normal routine. Even with daily schedules disrupted, try to continue to do things you like, such as communicating with good friends and loved ones.
  • Stay active. Maintain the right amount of exercise. It is one of the most effective natural anti-stress and anti-anxiety steps you can take.
  • Learn to cope. Learn different relaxation exercises to help calm yourself, including deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness.

Do you feel yourself feeling fearful and confused by news and information about the Covid-19? Contact the BFDC, we can help. We also offer online counselling if you prefer to stay at home.

傳染病

現時在本港甚至在環球巿面上有兩種東西在逐漸傳播並蔓延:武漢新型肺炎病毒和因為恐慌而出現的醫療用品和日常用品搶購潮。

目前,在還沒有100%確定這新型病毒的確實傳播媒介下,瞬息萬變的互聯網上已流傳著很多號稱已「fact-checked」的資訊。那些資訊迅速在社交媒體大肆再複制並「傳播」,一傳十、十傳百,一夜之間大家都被極大量不同的醫學報告、科學資訊和生活智慧衝擊大腦。有些人甚至會覺得突然很大壓力、很㥬惶和迷惘。

面對突如其來的傳染病疫情,看見電視或電腦畫上播放著世界每個地方的感染人數和病逝數目持續上升,而且政府的措拖又似乎跟社會的期望有所不同並制造了更大的撕裂,很多人都會產生不同的負面情緒例如很無助、很無力甚至憤怒。

這個時候,我們要作出理性的決定和選擇都會更加困難。

那我們是否就一定會完全被「傳染」那些負面情緒例如恐慌和大量沒有準則的資訊而作出不理性的行為?當然不是。我們可以參考以下三種方法去為自己建立起強大的「防疫系統」:

  1. 不直接做反應

現在我們實在有太多不同途徑去接收不同的資訊,多得讓我們抖不過氣來,甚至一時三刻未必能分辨內容和來源真偽。在這個時候,最重要的就是停一停,想一想。我們絕對沒有必要讓自己對收到的建議或想法或作出條件反射在沒有思考過便立即信任並作出行動。那些沒有過濾的行動就是我們面對壓力、焦慮或其他負面情緒時的一個反應。就像是我們遇溺時一樣,會因為害怕而雙手亂撥,忘記了要保持冷靜才能有機會走出困境。

我們其實都要知道,互聯網雖然是一個獲得最新和有用資訊的好途徑,它亦是很多懷有不同動機人士的訊息傳播手段。所以,尤其在這個動盪時候,當我們收到訊息後,我們必須學會查清楚消息來源(例如發佈作者或機構是否在相關領域有權威的專家和組職?)和確實它的可信性(例如你能否真的能從相關網站找到相關資訊而不是其他人虛構的消息?),這樣做除了能從這個過程當中增加對事件的認識,這樣亦能減少錯信一些沒有任何實質證據支持的建議,導致浪費了金錢或時間,進一步肯定了我們的負能量,並加強了對焦慮或恐懼的反應,形成一個不理想的循環。

  1. 與家人和朋友商量

香港正在經歷一段長時間的社會動盪和壓力,我們會受到負面影響而產生不信任感和不安全感是完全可以理解的。然而,你也肯定不是孤單,在做任何決定前,不妨先身邊的朋友或親人討論。重點不是他們的見解一定可靠,而是我們能從對話中刺激思考,而是不是盲目附和了自己的條件反射,也能讓大家聽到不同意見。這樣不但有機會能將不安感讓大家分擔,也能在查找資訊來源和可靠性事半功倍。

  1. 學習為自己放鬆

回到問題源頭,不理性的決定其實是因為我們感到不安、害怕和焦慮。所以當我們遇到負面情緒能保持一個輕鬆的心理狀態才是上策,讓我們擁有更多「心理資源」去面對突如其來的事件。以下是一些能讓大家減壓的建議:

  1. 不要讓自己長時間瀏覽那些相關的更新資訊,因為它會讓我們長期處於一個很崩緊的狀態,無法放鬆;
  2. 就算日常運作受到不同程度的影響,也盡量去繼續做一些你喜歡做的事,例如跟好朋友和親人聯絡和溝通;
  3. 保持適量的運動,它是最天然的抗負能量「藥物」;
  4. 學習不同的放鬆練習,例如腹式呼吸放鬆練習。

腹式呼吸放鬆練習方法:

  1. 開始將專注力放在你的呼吸,把手放在你的腹部,可以閉上眼睛
  2. 用鼻子慢慢深吸一口氣(吸氣時心中數1-7)並用你的腹部向外頂你的手
  3. 然後用口或鼻子慢慢地呼氣 (呼氣時心中數1-11)並用手將腹部按下
  4. 重覆這樣呼吸直至你覺得心情放鬆