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Why do people ignore measures on Covid-19 and what to do about it?

4 min read

The rising number of cases rising on Covid-19 are forcing authorities to take measures never taken before and to react to the spreading of the virus by limiting public gatherings, closing down public and private education facilities, and advising on limiting the time spent in public places.

Yet so many people find it hard to follow the advice and keep going as if nothing happens or just lie about their itineraries to avoid isolation. The latest example of this was a man who lied about being abroad, only to give Covid-19 to his family members and to quarantine an entire hospital.

Why is this happening? Is it really true that people are ignorant or have only think about themselves? Not quite. My experience as a therapist working with people who deal with adverse events and emotional distress is that their reactions are mediated by what psychologists call irrational thinking patterns and by interpretation routes that yield negative behaviors.

Let’s see what is out there:

  1. People freeze

This is one of the most common reasons why most people fail to change their routines despite authorities’ recommendation to work from home and avoid public contact unless necessary. We are all familiar with the fight or flight reactions to something bad happening. Our amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for quick reactions to dangerous stimuli) activates when in contact with an adverse event. If I experience an event that scares or angry me, my amygdala prepares me for a fight or a flight response.

But in the case of the Covid-19 spreading, the event is new. No one that we know has experienced such recommendations or such a threat before. Most of our parents haven’t experienced it either. Being a new virus, we do not have enough information about what are the implications, what does fast-spreading mean, and what are the correct measures to be taken.

So people freeze. It is hard to change our routines and follow recommendations that are so severe. We cannot wrap our minds around this. It’s like an action movie in our lives. It is simpler just to do nothing and think that it will not happen to us.

This is one of the most dangerous things that we can do and to get out of the freeze zone means staying informed, asking people whose opinions you trust about these events, and recognize that we don’t know how to respond and that’s ok. We can learn how to respond.

2. People are afraid

And it is normal because the uncertainty of the situation is the exact trigger of fear and suspicion. That is why it is important to stay informed by trustworthy sources and to follow the recommendations. Information gives you a sense of control of an uncertain situation that we are all exposed to.

However, the novelty of the situation gives rise to all sorts of scenarios and catastrophization (this are irrational ways of thinking where you can only see the negative scenarios and interpret them as the worst thing that can happen). There is a difference between feeling worried and feeling panicked. Worry is a natural response to a dangerous event. It allows us to mobilize quickly and take the necessary measures to be safe. Panic means that you only concentrate on the aspects of the spreading that you cannot control and see only negative scenarios. As tempting as this may seem in this situation, this will only damage the way that you function daily and can lead to anxiety disorders.

3. People are unsure to speak up

We are all discussing Coronavirus in breaks or meetings or on social media, but when it comes to taking concrete measures to follow recommendations some people are falling prey to indecision: “Am I exaggerating for wanting to work from home? Am I panicking for no reason, for doing shopping for two weeks? Or not going out at all?” These are questions that come often in people’s minds because nobody went through this and because it is hard to operate outside our preset routes.

Whatever the answer to these questions, do what you feel is right for you. If you feel that staying off public transportation is the solution for you and you want to work from home, raise this issue with your manager. Even if the response is not a clear “yes” you can still start a conversation and get to a reasonable compromise for everyone in this situation.

It is normal to feel worried and afraid over the course of this situation. We feel vulnerable and out of control. What I urge you to do is to keep yourself informed and ask what is important to you and how you can achieve this more easily. To be indifferent is the worst thing you can happen because then you do nothing, and doing nothing is what keeps Covid-19 on spreading.

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