The news about SARS and other contagious diseases can be frightening. Reports focusing on the most sensational aspects of SARS and other contagious diseases have escalated people’s anxiety, and it can be hard to separate the facts from the hype. The good news is that the skills of resilience–the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress–can help offset the anxiety that these outbreaks evoke.
The reality is that more people die from the flu each year–about 36,000 each year in the U.S. alone–than have died from SARS or any of the other exotic diseases making the headlines, but reports focusing on the most sensational aspects of SARS and other contagious diseases have escalated people’s anxiety.
The good news is that the skills of resilience–the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress–can help offset the anxiety that these outbreaks evoke.
In addition to the physical threat these diseases may pose, they also can affect our psychological wellbeing. For those living in or traveling to a city exposed to SARS or other outbreaks, the threat of this contagious disease can lead to anxiety and stress.
These feelings may even be heightened because of other threats people must deal with, such as the recent security threats and the war in Iraq, which already made many feel vulnerable and uncertain about the future.
Although SARS and other highly contagious diseases could potentially affect anyone, they may be of particular concern to certain populations:
- Health-care workers may feel particularly vulnerable because their work often places them in direct contact with people who may have been exposed.
- Children may have heard stories about an outbreak and may be afraid without being able to verbalize those fears.
- The threat of exposure to a disease may worsen the isolation felt by many elderly people if the threat affects their decisions about going out for errands or visits.
- Those exposed to an infectious disease, whether they have survived the disease or are in quarantine, may find themselves lonely or depressed, especially if contact with other people is limited.
The threats to psychological well-being that outbreaks pose often can be overcome with the skills of resilience, which can serve as a kind of emotional vaccine. We all can develop resilience. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. Following are tips to building resilience that can help you adapt to the threat of disease outbreaks such as SARS.