With the continuous spread of the global pandemic COVID-19, people across the world are affected not only physically but also mentally. Emotions are affected deeply and with almost the entire world getting locked down, emotional stress is quite normal during this time. David DeSteno is a Psychology professor in the College of Science at Northeastern University. He says that the constant inundation of emotionally fraught images and information about the disease can drive a dramatic increase in our sense of fear, giving our minds the impression that we’re under constant threat. However, if we are watching TV or on social media constantly, we are being barraged with it 24/7. This causes us a lot more stress and anxiety.
DeSteno’s research suggests that emotions can be contagious. This is because when we feel emotions, we are feeling them help us solve an immediate problem or go toward an immediate reward. Thus, it makes sense that not only do we have our own emotional states that the environment invokes in us, but also that we catch them from others. In the current scenario, if we read some posts on social media, it can lead to levels of fear that are a bit more intense than is warranted. DeStano says feelings may spread virtually as well. There are many ways we interact virtually. For instance, on a video call, two people would be almost the same as they would be in person. Emotional expressions can be read and our tone can also convey emotional states. Now, people are posting articles that are high in emotional content and fear right now, so there are lots of ways for emotion to spread online.
DeSteno recommends meditation to balance work and personal life. One way can be to try and find time within our daily life to try to focus on emotions that are more positive calming and relaxing: things like gratitude and compassion. Engaging in meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety. Another thing he recommends is doing a “virtual reciprocity ring.” Here you can get a bunch of people that you know, and have each of them bring one other person to an online group. Then, everybody posts one thing that they need help with, and then everybody volunteers to meet one person’s needs.
“The feelings of fear and anxiety that we’re all feeling are valid, and they serve a role. But fear is designed to meet an immediate short-term challenge. And the way we have to deal with COVID-19 is going to be ongoing. Being in a constant state of fear is problematic. So, you have to recognise that you’re going to have that fear, but also have to be able to detach from it”, says DeStano.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman