Ask Colin: Coronavirus Anxiety

Colin, I’m freaking out about all of this coronavirus stuff, and it’s triggering my anxiety.

I don’t know how worried I should actually be, and I don’t know if I should be preparing for the zombie apocalypse or laughing at my friends who are.

Any thoughts on this?



Hey Mattie-

A big caveat up front: I’m not an expert on this subject, and you should prioritize information from the CDCWHOJohns Hopkins, and other expert-focused resources (rather than ideologically slanted news sources or random YouTube channels flogging snake oil “cures”).

That said, here’s a quick jumble of thoughts on the matter:

It’s worth preparing for some very non-ideal scenarios, but panic doesn’t help anyone. Don’t buy all the toilet paper you can find, but do have a little extra shelf-stable food and other necessities, in case there’s a shortage at some point in the future.

This preparation likely won’t be a survival necessity: it’s a means of helping your local social infrastructure when it’s under strain, preparing your own setup so that people for whom it truly is a matter of survival will be more likely to have what they need, because you’re already in a decent spot.

It’s a good idea to take the precautions outlined by the aforementioned authoritative resources: wash your hands assiduously, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, and avoid touching surfaces and other people when you can, because the disease seems to be spread through droplets that don’t travel too far, and which are primarily disseminated via bad-luck direct coughs and sneezes, and picking up such droplets that’ve settled onto surfaces after being coughed or sneezed out.

Know that things will probably be weird for a while, and that there are a lot of reasons for this—but none of them represent a zombie apocalypse-like scenario.

That so many events are being cancelled is probably a good thing, even though in some cases it may seem like an overreaction.

The best-case scenario here is that we all feel a little foolish for avoiding concerts and conferences for a few months, or even a year, as long as that keeps everyone from catching a bad case of COVID-19, or becoming a carrier and transmitting it to people who are especially vulnerable to it.

And on that last item: all indications point to a whole lot of time and resources being invested in vaccines and treatments, but it’s unlikely that either will arrive in the near-future (vaccines in particular will likely take 12-18 months to hit shelves, if we’re lucky), and our best bet is to try to “flatten the curve,” which means slowing down the coronavirus’ spread so that—although about the same number of people will catch it, ultimately—we’ll catch it at different times. Which means we’ll be a lot less likely to tax our medical infrastructure to its limits, and those of us who do catch it will be more likely to benefit from the best possible treatment, rather than suffering through what a strained or broken system can offer.

If you’re feeling especially stressed by all of this, to the point of anxiety, consider focusing on the things you can control—behaviors, habits, and plans—and then looking away from the breathless news coverage as much as possible for a while.

We don’t know enough to truly know the shape of this thing, yet, or what to expect, and a lot of the prognostication that’s taking place is little better than guesswork—educated guesswork, but not super-useful beyond it informing the precautions we’re instructed to take by health organizations.

Keep your ears perked up for new, actionable information, then, but don’t worry that you need to stay up-to-the-moment with all the most recent virus news. There are a lot of political and financial incentives to keep everyone revved up about this issue, but a lot of what’s published and broadcast won’t be immediately relevant to you or how you behave.

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