As the air becomes cooler and crisper, and lawns are blanketed in a crunch of crimson and gold leaves, it’s a time to celebrate the wonders of Mother Nature. Yet fueled by relentless news coverage and misinformation, many Americans are preoccupied and panicked about the Ebola threat. It’s a source of tremendous worry, exacerbated by the uncertainty associated with the disease as well as the prognosis and treatment outcomes for those not connected to more sophisticated medical care. The irony is that the anxiety it evokes can manifest somatically in some of the ways that mimic the symptomatology of the virus! Specifically, intense stomach upset, diarrhea, headaches, cramps, feeling lethargic and achy are associated with Ebola and are also common manifestations of anxiety and severe stress. It’s so important to not allow the sensationalized scare tactics of television or the Internet to distort our interpretation of these symptoms.
Although we may not feel a sense of control when a new and frightening disease appears on the scene, there are things we can do that will mitigate those feelings of disempowerment, and that’s where we should focus our attention. It helps to maintain a sense of perspective, and this can be accomplished when we operate from actual facts. One person has died from Ebola in the United States. This certainly is a tragic loss, and yet over 200,000 people get hospitalized every year from severe symptoms related to Influenza and over 40,000 die. You can only contract Ebola through the bodily fluids of an infected person who is symptomatic, or from needles that have been in contact with those infected fluids. This means we do not need to panic about contracting Ebola through food, water, the air, or by touching doorknobs, money or laptops.
We can also control how much exposure we have to media reports, particularly when the impact leaves us feeling frightened, misinformed, or overwhelmed. Any obsessive thoughts we may have about being physically vulnerable or unsafe get exacerbated when we have watched or read too many stories about Ebola as an “epidemic” in the United States. The only thing that may actually be an epidemic is the excessive coverage designed to get us to tune in. Given the actual reality- that Ebola is exceedingly rare- limit your exposure to stories about it and re-focus on the far more common illnesses that do require being proactive on our part. Specifically, get your flu shot!