COVID-19: The Psychology Of A Pandemic

By Natalie Haynes.

Let’s just start with acknowledging that these times are scary, confusing, and overwhelming. We are all trying to absorb charts, graphs, information on transmission rates, statistics about things like R-naught doubling times, and projections of crippling economic circumstances.

Understanding where we are and where we’re going is not straightforward. It feels like you have to become a doctor, statistician, finance expert, logistics professional, philosopher, medical ethicist, psychologist, and epidemiologist all at once in order to make sense of the constant barrage of news (and “news”).

The coronavirus is disrupting many systems in our lives, and unfortunately experts alone don’t own the media stage, so it can be hard to know who to listen to.

We have everything from this very thoughtful piece from Jason Warner, a Silicon Valley executive, in which he clearly explains the math behind the importance of physical distancing, to this comment from Geraldo Rivera stating that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you don’t have coronavirus.

Sometimes it’s obvious who is well-reasoned and who is not, but it can be mentally exhausting to constantly sort through the chaos. And being afraid often leads us to our darkest instincts.

David Ropeik, author of “How Risky is it, Really?”, says this is to be expected. “We are hard wired to use our emotions more than reason all the time, but especially when it comes to keeping ourselves safe.”

Hoarding toilet paper may be completely unnecessary, but it gives us a sense of control. And it’s instinctual to be selfish when we feel a need to protect ourselves and our families.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert and public health scientist, recognizes these selfish tendencies and the trajectory we’re facing. He warns that this will get worse before it gets better. “My job is not to scare you out of your wits; it’s to scare you into your wits.” He maintains that this outbreak will likely last for a few months. Hopefully we will collectively adjust and recalibrate our behavior. We do not have to descend into selfish individualism.

We don’t have to live in fear. We can live in smart. We can live in kindness.

And many people are certainly doing that. Sure, some people are hoarding, but other people are truly helping each other and sharing resources. In moments of crisis, the strongest share.

A Metametrix search on “Kindness during covid” brings back a heartwarming collection of articles and concepts. The top concept is “doing the right thing”.

Normally we delve into the impact on brands and business, but we are taking a pause on that other than to say that we think compassion will be what is remembered. This post is just a small set of thoughts about a very large issue.

Stay safe, everyone.