Maybe you can’t stop reading about COVID-19, from the new research studies to the political developments surrounding the disease. Or perhaps you binge-watched both “Outbreak” and “Contagion” back-to-back (which was a very popular thing to do in March, AKA 10 lifetimes ago), and then dove straight into Netflix’s Pandemic docu-series.
As some people try to avoid anything that reminds them of COVID-19, others simply can’t get enough pandemic content. If you’re obsessed with the news cycle right now, and related matters, here are some reasons you might be diving straight into the action.
If you can’t stop reading the news, you may be looking for a sense of control.
According to Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast, people have different coping and defense mechanisms for dealing with anxiety and stress.
“Those will probably say a lot about how much looking or not looking [at pandemic-related content] someone is doing,” Saltz said.
People diving into the news cycle ― analyzing every detail of new developments ― are likely looking to regain some control and “own the narrative,” according to Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist in Southern California and host of SuperCharged Life podcast.
“Reading up on all of the news gives people the belief that somehow they’ll be able to solve the problem better if they are armed with all of the knowledge,” Ho said. “Which is true to an extent, but not true in that there is very little we can control about how much longer this disease spreads and when we might actually get back to the new normal as a society because those are not our decisions to make.”
The urge to control and mold a situation is innate, speaking directly to our evolutionary roots of survival at all costs, she added. “If we can control our environment, then we can survive and not perish. So it’s a survivalist technique at the most basic level,” Ho said.
Getting educated through following the news is not a bad thing to do. “Intellectualizing is both a reasonably sophisticated and, for some people, helpful defense mechanism ― understanding it to the best of their abilities,” Saltz said. In a world of unknown, if the disease strikes close to home, it might give you some comfort to feel like you understand the pandemic as well as you can.
That said, Saltz said what is “healthy in moderation” can be taken to an extreme quickly. Initially, finding out new information will calm your nerves. “But it also provides positive feedback in your brain to say, ‘This works,’” Saltz said. “If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole all the time, the compulsion to look and find the material, and make yourself feel better, will grow an obsession. You’ll go from intellectualizing it to an obsessive-compulsive solution to anxiety… You could develop a problem that feels like a solution.”
If you are constantly seeking out new COVID-19 information that may not even be there, Saltz suggested limiting yourself to such activities to 20 minutes a day. Engage in other hobbies ― like meditation, going for walks, talking to friends, cooking ― to calm your anxiety.