Lately ISIS and Ebola stories have dominated the headlines. It would be difficult to turn on a news network or open a newspaper, online or print, and not see a story about either of them close to the headlines. It doesn't matter if it's a left leaning news organization or conservative - the stories are there and in many ways, unavoidable. At the time of writing this article (October 4, 2014) a quick Google search for these two news topics yielded the following as top results: "Peter Kassig's Parents Make Video Plead to ISIS" and "CDC Investigates Sick Passenger for Possible Ebola at New Jersey Airport." These headlines are gripping and are designed to lead the reader to want to know more. That's how stories get sold and read. Case in point: A boring headline will not stimulate curiosity and will not be read. While a headline that raises questions and leads to uncertainty in the mind of the reader will captivate by way of fear and anxiety.
These fears and anxieties are real. My patients have expressed high anxiety over the state of these two issues and it isn't limited to New York. I've received emails from anxious people around the world. The common thread: Uncertainty. This underlies most fears and anxieties. It doesn't matter if it's a fear of driving over a bridge, fear of elevators, or fear of being attacked. Not having accurate information links all such fears.
Given that principle, here's how to deal with the increasing anxieties over these two major stories:
- Educate yourself. So often fears and anxieties are perpetuated by inaccurate information and unreliable news sources. Know the facts about the Ebola virus. Know how it is acquired, what the symptoms are, and how it is treated. Some trusted sites would include the CDC and WHO.
- Choose a news source that you trust and stick with it. Stay away from news sources that report hype and gossip and use fear-mongering and over the top and salacious headlines to sell news.
- Accept the notion that uncertainty is part of the fabric of our society. We will never know exactly what ISIS members are thinking or where they might strike next. This is part of modern life. Focus on what you know rather than on what you don't know.
- Understand psychological warfare. It is an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of someone and target their emotions, values, and belief systems. Tactics can often invoke a raw and visceral emotional response and one that stays with someone for while. Clearly the gruesome beheading videos are an attempt to do just that. ISIS survives through fear. Take fear away, and what do they have to stand on? Gaining an understanding of their way of operating may help to eliminate some of your fear response by making them seem less elusive.
- Separate fact from fiction. Write two columns on a piece of paper. On one side write what you know to be fact and on the other write what might be more rumor or hype. Put an X through the second column and focus only on the facts. This exercise can be applied to both news stories and others that might be wreaking anxiety on you.
- Maintain perspective. When people are anxious, they lose sight of perspective. Years ago I worked with an individual who ran a thriving business but was having a slow month or two. He became so anxious that in his mind he was packing his bags and moving back to live with his parents sleeping in the bedroom he slept in 25 years earlier. He lost perspective and context of what was really going on. It was the holiday season and business typically slows during that time of the year. Similarly, keep news stories in perspective. Ebola is in fact dangerous and can kill, but symptoms can also be treated and managed when detected. Matter of fact, many other diseases kill people at an alarmingly higher rate in the U.S. than Ebola. Cardiac disease and influenza are two such examples.
- Decide on a news-exposure budget. Decide how much news you'll expose yourself to and allot a limited time to watching it. For instance, it might be just in the morning and evening. Avoid watching news close to bed time too. Raising your anxiety levels is entirely incompatible with what you're trying to accomplish: rest.
- Maintain structure and routine in your day. Remember, anxiety in part stems from uncertainty, so do your best to make your day predictable and routine.
For more tips on dealing with fear check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.