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The Rise and Fall of Pandemic Panic

Updated: Oct 30



Upon learning of the confirmed COVID-19 cases that had spread to 26 countries reported in late December, 2019, much fear ensued throughout the world which caused severe psychological consequences. Among the concerns was a "panic" state as triggered by the vast number of those being impacted by the virus in a very short period of time.


Described by United Nations as "humanities worst crisis since World War II, since its emergence in Asia in 2019", at the time of report March 31, 2020 (Lederer), the COVID-19 virus had invaded every continent except Antarctica. Its only natural that humans became fearful. The UN Chief had appealed to the world for a global response that would only be made possible "if everybody comes together and if we forget political games and understand that it is humankind that is at stake." But 2020 and 2021 included multiple collective traumas that caused deterioration of psychological well-being among many.


Those impacted by the news of COVID will long remember the empty grocery stores in the cleaning and paper aisles as evidence of "panic-buying", which was one way people coped with uncertainty during lock down. Panic buying is described as "a phenomenon that happens in the face of crisis that can drive up prices and take essential goods out of the hands of people who need them most (such as face masks for health workers)" (Lufkin, 2020) caused by the fear of the unknown.


The collective trauma of the world has had lasting impacts on humans across the globe. COVID-19 "paralyzes not only our society but also our psychological well being" (Nicomedes & Avila, 2020). It has come to light that a high prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Disorder has been identified across the world, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Studies reveal a range of new anxiety disorders (no prior diagnosis) that range from 19% in upwards of 69% of the population. "Findings from a Bangladeshi study yielded high prevalence rates of panic disorder (79.6%) in the general population, while a recent systematic review found a PTSD prevalence rate of 21.9% (Georgieva et. al, 2021). For anyone with the panic feeling, know that your were among the majority. Some have developed continual panic since.


A panic attack is "an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013): pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, chest pain, nausea, stomach ache, dizziness, derealization, depersonalization, feeling of losing control, overwhelming fear of death, tingling, and chills.


Panic attacks are incredibly overwhelming and comfortable. Sometimes the physiological symptoms are so fierce that panic attacks can mimic heart emergencies. Sometimes the fear of experiencing more can turn into a more chronic condition. Panic disorder can develop from recurrent or unexpected panic attacks and persistent worry or concern of additional attacks or their consequences.


Because panic attacks can mimic heart attacks, it is often hard to tell the difference. Here is a link to an article from the Cleveland Clinic to guide you on how to know the difference and when to seek medical attention.


What can you do to reduce panic and physiological symptoms of panic and health anxiety?

  • Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing (link to author's recording of the practice).

  • Reduce catastrophic thinking about both panic and body sensations

  • Focus on adding predictability to life by controlling things you can

  • Obtain a healthy dose of sleep each night

  • Get back to the basics of physical activity, nutrition, hydration

  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol, substances, and nicotine

  • Continue best practices recommended by your healthcare provider

  • Make time to unwind and connect with others

  • Talk with your healthcare provider or someone you trust

  • Consider counseling should panic continue to wreak havoc on your life

An example of catastrophic thinking includes the underlying fears that lead to panic buying at the start of the pandemic. As the fear of the unknown rested on the shoulders of humans across the globe, it became a catalyst for the panic behavior. It was rational and considered disaster prevention as people prepared for lockdown with supplies like non-perishables, a few-week supply of toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies. However it became irrational to buy in excess. This panic buying lead to shortages at grocery stores leaving vulnerable adults without needed supplies, and healthcare workers without needed masks.


As Fall commences, the fall of worldwide panic continues to reduce the state of panic throughout the world. Should panic continue to be a concern for you or a loved one, know that you are in good company. Many have experienced panic at some point during the pandemic; you don't have to go through this alone.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached through emailing her at teresa@jacobsoncounseling.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.jacobsoncounseling.org.




References


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-5. Washington, DC.

Georgieva, I., Lepping, P., Bozev, V., Lickiewica, J., Pekara, J., Wikman, S., Losevica, M., Raveesh, B.N., Mihai, A., and Lantta, T. (2021). Prevalence, new incidence, course and risk factors of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and panic disorder during the Covid-19 pandemic in 11 countries. Healthcare. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare9060664


Lederer, E. M. (2020, March 31). UN Chief says COVID-19 is worst crisis since World War II. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/asia-pacific-united-nations-virus-outbreak-financial-markets-us-news-dd1b9502802f03f88d56c34f7d95270c


Lufkin, B. (2020, March 4). Coronavirus: The psychology of panic buying. BBC. Retrieved from

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200304-coronavirus-covid-19-update-why-people-are-stockpiling


Nicomedes, C.J.C., Avila, R.M.A. (2020). An analysis on the panic during COVID-19 pandemic through an online forum. J Affect Disord. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362858/



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