the three stages of mental covid

Published on March 17, 2020

To my knowledge, I do not have the coronavirus (at least yet). But the virus has managed to take over one part of my body so far: the mind.

Stage one

One week ago, coronavirus was a news story perpetuating in the background. I heard people talking about coronavirus, and I participated in a number of discussions about the virus and how it was affecting others. At this time, coronavirus was just like any other big news story: something so significant it came up in a number of conversations.

This was stage one of mental covid. During this time, I was not aware of exactly what was going on. I had not read into covid past a certain point. I certainly was not actively following the news and reading every article that I could find on the matter. I was going about my daily business, and was generally exposed to more information about covid.

Stage one of mental covid was not stressful or intimidating. Yet I slowly found myself consuming more and more information about coronavirus. I would open up the news every few hours and check in on the situation. I would talk more about covid.

Stage two

Then came stage two, which was more serious. On Friday, I woke up like normal, but as the day went on everything seemed to change. I don’t believe I shall ever forget that day. As the day progressed, I started reading more and more about coronavirus, then something changed inside me. I am not exactly sure how to describe it, but in short coronavirus evolved from a news story in the background to a major concern.

Between Friday and Monday evening I consumed more articles about coronavirus. In fact, I even had the BBC News live coronavirus feed open throughout my work day yesterday (alongside around 250,000 other people at many times, according to the site’s view counter), and even that wasn’t enough. I kept looking for more articles.

Stage two was debilitating. My mind has suddenly realized the magnitude of covid and was trying to adapt to this new environment. There was so much information out there and I felt as though the only thing I could do was read more. I was sucked into any article that I could find which mentioned coronavirus. Everything else seemed unimportant.

During stage two, I tried to calm myself down. I tried to talk away from the news. It couldn’t happen though because I was concerned that I would miss an important story. What if the World Health Organization made an important announcement? What if the UK Government announced new regulations around covid prevention? Could I forgive myself for not knowing that information at the earliest possible stage?

Stage two was particularly difficult because, at the same time, I was battling the question “how can I help?” Unlike in a traditional war, the best thing we can all do right now is stay at home, wash our hands, and follow government guidelines. None of these things made me feel like I was doing enough. But when I read the news, I felt like I was informing myself of the facts. I felt like I was doing something meaningful.

In short, the symptoms of stage two covid are:

  • Spending more than 25% of your time reading the news or talking about covid
  • Worrying extensively about what you have read
  • Compulsively checking your notifications
  • Subscribing to as many new content sources as possible so you can get the latest news quicker
  • Prioritizing quantity over quality

Stage two mental covid is followed by stage three: the final stage.

Stage three

Then, after a tiresome and difficult day, I evolved onto stage three.

Stage three is where you are following covid coverage, but you are not spending a large percentage of your time reading the news.

For me, stage three of mental covid has involved reading the news around twice so far today. It’s just past mid-day, and I will likely read the news a few more times today, but I no longer have a news tab open in my browser. I am no longer worried about “what if I miss the next story?” I have gone from panic-ridden to someone who wants to stay informed, but understands the limitations.

Stage three is where you want to be. You want to be informed -- you should know what is going on, and be up to date -- but you also don’t want to be spending too much of your time on reading coverage related to covid.

What caused the transition between stage two and stage three?

The main fact that made me transition from stage two -- the stressful stage of mental covid -- to stage three was that I finally internalized the fact that there is a diminishing point of return in reading the news.

In the past, I have maintained a strict policy of consuming no mainstream media. However, in these times, it is necessary that I read the news and stay up-to-date on the latest government guidelines about covid prevention, mitigation and protection.

After spending a few days at stage two, I realized that all I was doing was worrying. Each article made me more stressed, and after reading a few articles I found the benefits of reading an additional article were marginal, at best. I may have missed an important story about what’s going on in Italy, but during these times everything is important. I needed to prioritize and focus my attention on what was most important to me.

Covid is poised to be one of -- if not the -- most significant events in our history. We don’t even know what is coming next, but we are all starting to realize that things may have to get worse before they get better.

The main point I want to convey is that spending all your time on reading covid coverage is not useful. It’s an unproductive use of your time. Imagine if you spent as much time following every Trump story last year. Who would you be?

We will get through this, and you need to keep on going with your life. It may seem like you’re not doing much, but remember this: anything you do to stay healthy and keep working matters. Staying healthy helps combat the virus. Working -- even if it is just your daily grind -- helps maintain our economy. You may even want to write a blog post like this one, to help you have even more of an impact.

Stay up-to-date. Follow government guidelines. But don’t obsess, because that doesn’t help anyone.

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