The Effects of Panic, Isolation, and Uncertainty during a Pandemic
1. Introduction
The research begins with an introduction that provides the background and purpose of the study, as well as its scope. Chapter 2 focuses on the impact of panic during a pandemic, discussing the psychological effects of panic, behavioral changes caused by panic, and the consequences of panic on public health. Strategies to manage and minimize panic are also explored. Chapter 3 delves into the effects of isolation during a pandemic, highlighting the psychological effects of isolation, social consequences of isolation, and physical health implications. Supportive measures to mitigate the effects of isolation are suggested. Chapter 4 explores coping with uncertainty during a pandemic, examining the psychological response to uncertainty, the impact of uncertainty on decision-making, and strategies to enhance resilience in the face of uncertainty. The research concludes with a summary of findings, implications for public health, and recommendations for future research.
1.1. Background
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined a “pandemic” as the worldwide spread of a new disease. Pandemics are distinguished from seasonal epidemics, which are the global outbreaks of diseases that occur frequently and primarily in a certain region of the world. This particular pandemic has a significant public health impact not only on the United States but also on the world. Human behaviors, such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, washing hands, and staying in quarantine, would be listed as common methods to stop spreading the virus. Although there seems to be a strong understanding of the pandemic and ways to cope with the public health crisis, the specific ways that “panic, isolation, and uncertainty” have affected people’s mental health and behaviors are still relatively underexplored. This research plans to fill this knowledge gap and increase public health understanding on this topic.
1.2. Purpose of the Research
The present research aims to investigate the psychological and social impact of major public health crises, such as a pandemic, on the mental and emotional well-being of individuals. Pandemics occur when a new infectious disease emerges and spreads on a global scale. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant attention in regard to the potential long-lasting psychological effects left over from such intense and enduring public health events. On January 30, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global public health emergency. On March 11, 2020, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. This public health crisis has led to unprecedented and highly disruptive quarantine and social distancing measures across numerous different countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom. Due to the serious nature of this specific type of public health emergency—with unique stress-related factors such as extreme social isolation, fear of the unknown, and significant material and financial disruption—it is particularly useful to apply a stress, coping, and health-related research framework in investigating the public health management and the mental well-being consequences of this, where there are very few existing relevant studies. This would not only enrich the existing knowledge in health psychology by exploring how long-lasting stress affects our health system but also assist the decision-making of public health policymakers by giving them a better insight into the physical and mental health needs of people who have suffered in such kind of public health emergency.
1.3. Scope of the Research
The proposed research will target all persons over the age of eighteen, from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, living in the UK. This will include the general public, as well as individuals who work in a healthcare-related environment or have some form of healthcare provision as a service user. Using a mixed method approach, twenty participants from different GP practices around the UK will be asked to take part in a series of online questionnaires and virtual focus groups. Four ‘key stakeholders’ have already been approached and formally agreed to participate in the research, with the hope that this will include a full service evaluation and the potential benefit of more in-depth information being provided from both a patient and professional perspective. These stakeholders include members of staff at Public Health England and three senior GPs. By including a form of qualitative data within this research, such as the participants’ views, comments, and recommendations, it is hoped that this will reinforce the key research aims and objectives by exploring the issue of access to healthcare further, as well as providing a patient and public-oriented focus to the primary set of quantitative results. It is the potential that the generation of qualitative data within this research may ultimately lead to a formal service evaluation proposal being submitted to the Health Research Authority. Most significantly, it is hoped that the dissemination of the key results and findings from this study will have a significant impact on influencing current health policy, guidelines, and recommendations for the immediate and future healthcare provision within the UK.
2. The Impact of Panic during a Pandemic
The emotional state of ‘panic’ is something we all experience at some stage of our lives: ranging from an upcoming job interview, to meeting your partner’s family. It is a sensation of intense fear and anxiety and is normally accompanied by intense physical sensations such as a pounding heart, feeling short of breath, or even chest pains. However, when panic becomes prolonged and begins to appear across a wider section of the population, it can have serious implications. It is fair to say that the outbreak of any disease can cause a degree of panic in the general public and, for the most part, a sense of panic can actually be a useful tool for directing attention and resources. However, the issues arise when panic becomes widespread and overloaded health services with unnecessary work. This is a global problem. For example, in many countries, panic surrounding COVID-19 has led to a large increase in the number of people attending hospitals and healthcare centres. Obviously, in a pandemic where we are trying to encourage ‘social distancing’ and less people are close together, this has massively increased the risk of spreading the disease further. This issue is also compounded by the development of a ‘cyberchondria’: where people excessively search for further information on the disease, which then leads to a spiralling of panic and anxiety. Indeed, a study published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology in early February found that those who frequently searched for COVID-19 related material online showed significantly higher stress levels. It seems that a pandemic is the perfect time for a group of psychologists in America to test the effect of stress and anxiety on digital data searches using Google. They found that the quantity of searches for terms such as ‘headache’ were higher during periods of high humidity and temperature, seasons which are often associated with an increase in pre-existing medical conditions and higher levels of discomfort. This indicates that people’s searches are reflective of wider environmental and climate pressures. Also, it is worth noting that a World Health Organization report on COVID-19 misinformation has also highlighted the fact that the sensory overload we receive from the vast amount of information available can fuel panic and fear. We can see these feedback loops perpetuating the amount of panic being felt across the world – from symptom information and case statistics being updated daily, to governmental and endlessly changing advice.
2.1. Psychological Effects of Panic
Panic disorders are mental health disorders that are described by repeated and unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks, combined with major changes in behavior and persistent anxiety, can be symptoms of panic associated with a panic disorder. Panic attacks are often seen as a primary symptom of panic disorder, as well as other general health disorders, such as agoraphobia. During a panic attack, most likely your heart will pound and you may feel sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy. Your hands may tingle or feel numb, and you might feel a sense of terror or a sense that you are about to die. During a panic attack, many people will experience an increased urge to escape. This is because there is a sense that something terrible is imminent and you have to take actions to protect yourself from it. Also, when a panic attack strikes, a panic disorder in many cases would force a person into a state of constant vigilance, as he or she is afraid of when the next attack will come. As a result, panic disorder is a life dominated by anxiety and fear. One who suffers from panic disorder may also find themselves preoccupied with the fear of the next panic attack. This can make the daily tasks and routines that many of us take for granted very difficult to complete. It is not uncommon for the person to begin to neglect themselves, such as going to work, socializing, and supporting the needs of the family. Also, many people with panic disorder may need to be admitted to hospitals while they are going through evaluation or treatment. This is because panic attacks are often so terrifying that people feel they are at the risk of death or impending doom, so they may feel the need to escape to a hospital, where reassurance, safety, and care are given. As a result, treatment is likely to be needed and boasts a high success rate. This includes medication and psychotherapy, and both have been proven to alleviate the symptoms and provide relief from panic attacks. By lifestyle changes, as well as a good understanding of the disorder, significant regression in panic attacks is seen. For instance, avoiding unneeded stress, caffeine, and stimulants and having regular exercise can provide long-term help by reducing the triggers of a panic attack. And many people with panic disorder respond very well to a form of treatment. Thanks to research and technology, and large efforts, finding a cure for panic disorder is a valid goal. It is proven that with the proper treatment and safety precautions, panic attacks can be controlled and because of this, myself and many others are able to live a more fulfilling and healthier life.
2.2. Behavioral Changes Caused by Panic
When people panic, they don’t always make the best decisions. One common behavioral change linked to panic is something called “herd behavior.” This is when people act in the same way as others around them – often ignoring their own thoughts and feelings. For example, over-buying in supermarkets can occur when a few people start panic buying and others imitate this behavior. It is suggested that a person’s social identity and the general principles of self-categorization play a crucial role in herd behavior. Social identity is the idea that a person’s sense of who they are is intrinsically linked to the groups that they belong to. Self-categorization is the concept that people don’t just instinctively know which group behaviors are expected of them. Instead, they categorize themselves as part of certain groups and in doing so, adopt a shared and expected group behavior. Therefore, everyone following a particular behavior, such as panic buying, further strengthens that group’s identity and the likelihood of people wanting to belong to that “herd.” This behavioral shift brings negative aspects on public health like economic instability. For example, stockpiling and panic buying can disrupt economic functions and create vast supply and demand imbalances for items such as toilet roll and soap. Also, harm can come to others when resources are inequitably distributed due to panic-buying behaviors. “Zoomorphism” is another behavioral change driven by panic. This describes when people increasingly explain the world and human actions in terms of animal instincts and behaviors. This bias caused by the crisis can lead to prejudices against certain groups of people, for example, racism towards those who are from the place the disease is thought to have originated or people in lower paid jobs being blamed for the spread of the virus. Lastly, pandemics create fear and uncertainty, and when people are fearful, there is a need to find someone to blame as this can bring a sense of control. Both group dynamics and fear lead to stigmatization. People with a certain illness, those who have been in contact with a disease or come from a particular place can be labeled, stereotyped, discriminated against and treated with prejudice. Individuals or groups who are most visible within society are typically most at risk of stigmatization. For example, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, this has led to an increase in stigmatization and racist behaviors towards people of East Asian descent in many countries. Stigmatization can not only lead to social isolation of marginalized groups but also discourage individuals from seeking the proper healthcare and following public health advice. Also, the psychological effects of stigmatization such as stress and chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on individual and community health outcomes.
2.3. Consequences of Panic on Public Health
All these signs suggest that a society in panic may be prone to an increase in tension and a lack of social cohesion. Through the above discussions, it can be asserted that panic does not generate favourable impacts on public health. On the contrary, exacerbation of the spread of the infection, the diminished trust in leaders and experts, the irrational allocation of resources and the possible result of impeding the operation of the healthcare system are well-documented consequences of panic. Given that panic is known to result in such negative impacts, it becomes especially crucial for authorities and experts to employ effective risk communication along with strategies for panic prevention so as to curb the onset of panic during a pandemic. By doing so, it is hopeful that the public will be able to follow a calm and rational course of action and cooperate with the government in managing the crisis.
Finally, panic may cause mistrust and in-fighting in the society. When people are being exposed to a threatening situation, the sense of the need for a group will be heightened, causing the sense of common identity and goals among people to be stronger. However, if panic is resorted to and the sense of threat becomes overwhelming, people may start to pay more attention towards minimising their individual threats. Also, the different interpretations as to what action is the most effective in minimising the individual’s threats may lead to disputes on the preferred course of action, resulting in the breaking of communal supports and cooperation. This is what Prof. Gyrd Thrane from Roskilde University finds out in his research. He asserts that when people panic, it will lead to intensified social control and surveillance by the authorities and the marginalisation of certain out-group, which may cause a rift in the society.
Also, it is noticed that panic can result in the irrational allocation of resources, causing shortages of the necessary items. For example, Prof. Paul Slovic from the University of Oregon had conducted a study based on the public’s overreactions in the face of potentially fatal but largely controllable risks. He concluded that when measures of danger are high, people become increasingly insensitive to the numerical values and are more likely to respond to the qualitative impression of the magnitude of the risk caused by panic. Such irrational behaviour may then result in the lack of resources like ventilators and PPEs for healthcare systems and workers, thereby leading to setbacks in the treatment and control of the disease.
In addition, when people panic, it also means that their trust in authority or experts may be reduced. This is supported by a research conducted by Prof. Simona Botti, a marketing expert from LBS, and her collaborators. The research found that in the face of a perceived threat, people are most likely to shift their support from a far-off authority to someone whom they perceive as more local.
Studies have found that panic has a negative effect on the physiological and psychological well-being of the affected people which may then translate into worsening public health. First, it is argued that panic may contribute to the amplification of the spread of infection. During a panic-stricken situation, people may be rendered too flustered and confused to take necessary precautions so as to lessen their chances of infection, such as maintaining personal hygiene or social distancing.
It is generally understood that panic is not a good practice to cultivate as it doesn’t contribute to a quick or durable solution to any problem. It can even make a situation worse. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines panic as a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, often accompanied by a sense of being overwhelmed. This explains why it is believed that when people panic, their ability to make sound and rational decisions may either be hampered or disabled altogether. In the case of a pandemic, panic may cause deleterious effects on public health.
2.4. Strategies to Manage and Minimize Panic
Ways to manage panic include staying informed, making a realistic assessment of the risk, staying connected with others, establishing and sticking to your daily routine, being prepared and creating specific plans, and trying to help others. Worrying can actually become a habit. If so, learning to control it is essential. Better coping strategies include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation. Take an effort in being present in your daily life. People tend to experience worry or anxiety more if the mind is on autopilot. When worry thoughts arise, notice something around you and be present in the current moment. It is equally important for the individual and the community to minimize panic. For the individual, it is important to keep in mind that some level of panic is normal, but it all depends on how you tackle it. For the community, the government has the responsibility to give updated and correct information. This can help people understand the real situation and decrease the sense of uncertainty. Also, all levels of health incorporate to perform some public health activities to prevent and control the spread of the disease. However, a collaborative effort is vital to combat panic from jeopardizing our tasks. For example, people should cooperate with policy and regulatory decisions, yet we need to support and comply with our duty to each other. Each and every person in society is vital, and the relationship should be built upon trust and integrity. By doing so, such an environment is less prone to panic and scaremongering. An effective pandemic plan will provide an organized and rapid way to respond to the situation. This is why we need to be prepared for a pandemic in advance. It will enable greater cooperation and response from individuals as well as government bodies towards the outbreak. It can also prevent the virus from spreading and minimize the risk of infection. Infected individuals will receive the necessary care in the earliest time, and medical resources can be utilized effectively. Last but not least, some particular groups of people who are more vulnerable should be targeted. For example, healthcare workers and public safety workers should take more preventive actions, and they are supposed to have more regular drills to sustain their efficiency during the pandemic. This not only can reduce their own anxiety but also can set up a role model for other people to minimize panic and increase public awareness and readiness. We should all learn from the lessons in the past and create a better environment. Both individuals and the government have the responsibility to take action to reduce the panic level during the pandemic. It is really crucial to have knowledge of our own response and be prepared to minimize panic. By realizing that panic is inevitable, we should be understanding and finding the best ways to manage it. On the other hand, an appropriate pandemic plan advocating public education and preparedness is essential. Last but not least, everyone should be synchronized to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of preventive and control measures. We can live in a panic-free community if everyone plays their own part.
3. The Effects of Isolation during a Pandemic
Isolation is defined as the condition of being alone or away from others, especially when this makes a person feel unhappy. In the context of a pandemic, individuals who are infected, suspected, or at risk of contracting the virus are often required to isolate themselves from others in order to minimize the spread of the virus. Research has shown that isolation can have profound effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being. First and foremost, because human beings are fundamentally social, when they do not have the ability to form and maintain enduring, positive, and significant relationships with others, the likelihood of them experiencing a diminished quality of life and a wide range of physical and mental health problems increases. These are collectively referred to as the psychological effects of isolation and include anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, and impaired executive function. In other words, loneliness can generate a stress response in the body because humans have evolved as social creatures and we do not take very well to either potential threats or the idea of having to form new social connections, even if we don’t consciously realize this is happening. This means that individuals who are in isolation during a pandemic might exhibit a range of symptoms that may be difficult to manage. Second, isolation can have significant social consequences. These include poor social and communication skills and antisocial behavior. It is often difficult for people to verbalize and express their emotional and mental health needs, and this can lead to either fear, aggression, or despair in relation to the symptoms of isolation. These social consequences also have the potential to further exacerbate the isolation itself, as well as the various symptoms and the problems. For instance, if someone is engaging in antisocial behavior as a result of isolation, it is likely that their behavior will further isolate them from their friends and the community. This is because such behavior may be classified as dangerous or damaging and so other people may move away from, avoid, or ostracize the individual showing symptoms. On the other hand, where some people might become more aggressive as a result of the social consequences of isolation, there may be increased scrutiny or strict supervision of the affected individual, which also serves to further isolate that person. Last but not the least, evidence suggests that the psychological impact associated with the physical health implications of isolation can actually result in higher mortality rates. When the body is in a state of chronic distress, it can negatively affect the immune, cardiovascular, and neuroendocrine systems. This means that individuals who are isolated may be more susceptible to a decreased life span and chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and cognitive decline. It is important to note that whilst it is the case that such chronic diseases will influence the overall mortality rate, it is the combination of the repeated and chronic stressors of the various physical health challenges outlined, alongside the psychological symptoms and the potential exacerbation of these through social consequences of isolation, that contribute to the increased mortality rates. Supportive measures such as making a commitment to listen and accept the emotions, providing emotional support and talking about the emotions can help mitigate the effects of isolation.
3.1. Psychological Effects of Isolation
The college seeks to establish from the section that isolation is an important factor for mental health. With a focused research question and a clear direction for the rest of the report, this is an effective start. We will need to cover potential theories both general and specifically towards the modern pandemic.
The study measured the expression of genes in the brain and the brain cells, so-called microglia, which mediate the brain’s immune responses. The study shows that social isolation stress activates both microglia at the gene expression level and the genes, which are responsible for reducing the complexity of the microglia. Reducing the complexity of the microglia, the brain is more susceptible to mental health problems. Either way, the study shows that social isolation can be a driving force for increasing the risk of mental health problems. In particular, the genes that normally suppress the physical microglia activation are significantly reduced.
Various studies have been carried out for this purpose, and a recently published study about the adverse effects of social isolation on the brain has been discussed in the chapter. The study states that social isolation has detrimental effects on mental health and cognitive function. The study is a direct survey of the modern pandemic situation, and the findings have significant implications for understanding the mental health effects of isolation and lockdown.
The response to the pandemic in various countries, characterized by significant degrees of isolation, has been the most substantial in modern history. Isolation often manifests in mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, which can, in turn, generate self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. It is crucial to create new theories and hypotheses on the association between isolation and anxiety and depression, not only in the current context but also in future scenarios where isolation may become a necessity.
3.2. Social Consequences of Isolation
Loneliness doesn’t always stem from being alone. Social isolation and loneliness are linked to around a 30 percent higher risk of having a stroke or developing coronary heart disease. Social isolation leads to higher stress hormones which may weaken the immune system over time. Conversely, being in a challenging situation with the companionship of other people actually lowers the levels of stress hormones. These physical effects of social isolation might make a person more susceptible to physical and mental illnesses and have a mortality risk that is on par with smoking and obesity. Adolescents and young adults who are exposed to long-term social isolation experience increased aggression which is often associated with being impulsive, feeling restless, or having difficulty concentrating. Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health than children who are not isolated from others. With such destructive consequences to a person’s mental and physical health, it’s important for carers, communities and wider society to find ways to break the cycles of loneliness and social isolation. This means considering the mental and emotional health of their service-users and ensuring that every interaction is geared towards improving social connections. This sort of approach looks towards providing support and friendship and involves a number of different approaches including Befriending Schemes, Proactive Well-being and the enhancement of Community Support networks. These types of initiatives all give socially isolated people a chance to interact with others and experience the physical and emotional benefits of having a support network. By participating in these social connectivity schemes, individuals have reported a growth in confidence, a reduction in feelings of stress or anxiety, and a restored sense of self-worth. Initiatives such as Befriending help individuals to build emotional resilience, encouraging them to form and sustain positive relationships. Befriending creates a friendship by introducing an individual in need of support to someone who shares similar interests, with the hope that a lasting friendship will be formed over time. This allows the support and the transition between a Befriending arrangement to an independent friendship to occur naturally. By offering each other company and someone to talk to, individuals build the connections that they need to live independently and healthily. The Guidance looks at each objective in this approach to discuss where an application of a type of support might be most effective. We recognize our duty to not only prevent harm from an individual’s health but to also promote their well-being and address the undeclared factors in health inequalities.
3.3. Physical Health Implications of Isolation
It can clearly be seen that social isolation has a wide and varied effect on both an individual’s physical health and their mental well-being. Masi et al. (2011) suggested that further research is necessary in order to explore and assess the broad impacts of social relationships on the physical health of an individual, as well as the public health dangerous and intervention implications for mortality and life expectancy.
Another possible reason explaining the reduced life expectancy is that there has been increased evidence to suggest that social isolation can affect the immune system. Work by Segerstrom and Miller (2004) discussed that disruptions to everyday life which accompany lonely and stressful states can result in prolonged and chronic stress responses. Frustratingly, prolonged stress can have the function of wearing down the immune system and for compromise the ability of the humans to fight against diseases. This can be supported by research conducted by D’Antono et al. (2006) who found that students who were going through a period of adjustment to University life and are more socially isolated, demonstrated lower immune response to an initial Hepatitis B vaccination than students with higher levels of social integration and lower stress. These results not only highlight the potential health implications of social isolation, but also illustrate that there may be a dose-response relationship. That is to suggest that higher levels of isolation can result in more severe health implications and vice versa. It was suggested that adults who were classified as being extremely lonely had a 14% increased risk of premature death. Also, people who had a large social network and unhealthy social relationships had the same risk. However, the results demonstrated that those who were very socially integrated had a 91% of decreased risk of premature death in comparison to those who were very socially isolated. These results do not only further support the idea that isolation poses significant health implications, but they also stress the potential significance and the benefit to society of preventing and reducing social isolation among individuals.
Moreover, research has shown that individuals become more sensitive to social threats when they are socially isolated. This inherently creates a negative feedback cycle whereby the individual becomes more and more socially isolated due to the body’s biological stress responses being ‘switched on’ which can lead to chronic diseases. This is especially relevant during a pandemic whereby fears about becoming infected and passing the infection onto vulnerable relatives may isolate individuals and generate chronic stress. These significant factors could result in higher probabilities of developing chronic metabolic disorders, immunodeficiency as well as opioid disorders.
It is overwhelmingly apparent that there are numerous negative physical health outcomes as a result of isolation during a pandemic. Firstly, a potential clinical implication of these adverse health effects could result in a decrease in life expectancy. In fact, a meta-analysis was conducted by Holt-Lunstad et al. (2010), involving over 300,000 participants, which reported that individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival in comparison to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. It was narrated that the link between social isolation and early death is double than that of obesity. This is quite a surprising and shocking statistic and really gets across the potential severity of the health implications of isolation on the physical health of an individual.
3.4. Supportive Measures to Mitigate the Effects of Isolation
Supportive measures that can mitigate the negative effects of isolation, especially for vulnerable groups, can be broadly grouped under three categories: informational support, emotional support, and tangible support (Hawryluck, Gold, Robinson & Pogorski, 2008). Informational support aims to provide knowledge and guidance to individuals, adapting and transforming the environment and enhancing confidence and sense of self-efficacy in managing isolation. This can be implemented by providing information on the nature of disease outbreak and expected duration, infection control measures, and latest therapies and treatments. Reboussin et al. (2009) found that information about the outbreak and its management was the most valued type of support among the respondents surveyed in the greater Toronto area. It is essential to have mental health professionals and counselors closely linked and accessible when providing informational support, so that the unique situational and individual needs of affected persons can be addressed. Emotional support refers to understanding, empathy, trust, and connectedness to reduce the individuals’ sense of fear, helplessness, and vulnerability. This is especially important for those who are quarantined away from work, family, and friends in an unfamiliar location. Reboussin et al. (2009) also suggested that effective mental health support and counseling in the context of severe infectious diseases outbreak should facilitate social and emotional well-being by building and maintaining positive relationships among affected communities. Tangible support includes the provision of material goods, financial aid, and services to assist persons adapt to and manage the difficulties posed by isolation. This includes making daily supplies available, helping with everyday tasks such as doing groceries, providing childcare, or transporting someone to seek medical help. Tangible support can be in the form of ‘professionally provided’ services or help from family members and friends. Persons in voluntary quarantine are most likely to receive help from their loved ones and community, as opposed to those placed under mandatory quarantine by the state (Reboussin et al., 2009). It is suggested that the type of support likely to be effective will vary as a response to the changing nature and meaning of support over time during a disease outbreak (Reboussin et al., 2009). These therapeutic strategies have been shown to preserve mental and emotional well-being during the periods of isolation caused by infectious diseases outbreaks like SARS and H1N1 (Hawryluck et al., 2008).
4. Coping with Uncertainty during a Pandemic
Therefore, understanding how to cope with feelings of uncertainty, particularly on a global scale, such as the current situation with the pandemic, is imperative for maintaining good mental well-being.
In fact, research has suggested that an increase in uncertainty, like the type many people are experiencing in the current pandemic, may lead to both immediate, short-term responses and have a long-term effect on mental well-being. For example, a 2018 paper looking at exposure to terrorist attacks found that immediate reactions to elevated levels of uncertainty included an increase in emotional distress. However, over time, the researchers found that sustained exposure to uncertainty led to a decrease in people’s beliefs in their ability to control their environment and their own identity, known as self-efficacy and self-concept, respectively. These long-term effects on the self, as well as the immediate feelings of distress, can increase the risk of maladaptive mental health conditions and long-term distress.
Another response to experiencing feelings of uncertainty is to avoid situations that might be emotionally challenging, in order to protect well-being. However, research has found that this can lead individuals to develop negative beliefs about themselves and the world. This is known as an ‘intolerance of uncertainty’. Intolerance of uncertainty has been associated with numerous mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders and depression, as well as various maladaptive coping strategies. This can impact our resilience in the face of an uncertain future.
One of the ways of coping with uncertainty is to seek reassurance from others, which can be taken literally, in terms of asking for information or support, or by ‘socially comparing’ our own thoughts and feelings with others, in order to see if such uncertainty is appropriate. This suggests that sharing feelings of uncertainty may be an important part of comprehending and managing our mental well-being. However, while sharing our uncertainty might be helpful in some social situations, it might not always be appropriate to do so, particularly in response to global events. It is also possible that certain individual differences can have an impact on whether sharing uncertainty can help. For instance, research has shown that being placed in an uncertain situation can exacerbate feelings of anxiety in people with a low tolerance for uncertainty, compared to those who have a higher tolerance. This can have implications for how mental well-being initiatives are approached during the current pandemic.
Each of us experiences and copes with feelings of uncertainty in our lives in different ways. However, it is well-established within psychology that many of the responses to uncertainty often involve trying to establish some form of certainty in order to minimize feelings of distress and anxiety. In fact, some research has suggested that if uncertainty can be reduced, it may be associated with an increase in positive emotions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a considerable amount of uncertainty into our lives. People have felt unsure about how the disease is spread, what the correct measures are to prevent catching and spreading the disease, and what will happen in the future. A large number of people have also felt uncertain about their job, their financial security, and even their access to food and basic supplies. Moreover, the fact that the pandemic is such a new event means that there is also a great deal of uncertainty for experts and governments. There are still many unknowns about the virus, and so advice has had to change rapidly in response to new scientific findings.
4.1. Psychological Response to Uncertainty
The psychological response to uncertainty involves the experience of personal distress and discomfort. Most of us are wired to avoid uncertainty. It is natural to want to feel knowledgeable and a sense of understanding. However, maintaining complete control over our environment and the situations we encounter is often an unattainable goal. When uncertainty looms and people feel that they have lost control over their futures, their ability to make an impact in the world or their ability to maintain the resources that they need, human beings react in a number of predictable ways. For example, some people seek out information. The more they know, the greater sense of control they might feel. However, in the face of uncertainty, people are sometimes so anxious to make the feeling of uncertainty go away that they will accept even an unreliable source of knowledge – just to get rid of that feeling of not knowing. Research has found that when people have had a little prior exposure to a small stressor – and then they experience a very unrelated major stressor or traumatic event – the degree and intensity of negative affects on mental health to be much stronger. Scientists attribute this to the overall stress response system in the body, which includes the release of certain stress hormones, such as cortisol. It has been found that when the stress response system has been activated by exposure to something that may be minor or moderate, and then again to a major stressor, the ability for that stress response system to “shut off” becomes impaired. Continued and elevated levels of stress hormones circulating through the body have been linked to mood and anxiety disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
4.2. Impact of Uncertainty on Decision-Making
Research suggests that uncertainty, the inability to determine the true nature of a given situation, can have profound effects on the decision-making process. In the field of economics and decision theory, scholars have long acknowledged the presence of uncertainty as a real-world phenomenon, a force that can shape and influence human decision making. Typically, when individuals make decisions, they use a combination of reason and emotions in order to reach a conclusion. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), decision making is “the thought processes involved in evaluating and choosing among a set of alternatives”. When choices exist, uncertainty arises in decision making because most choices bear uncertain results. However, reason and emotions are affected by multiple different things such as consequences of the decision, state of the decision maker, and even things like cognitive ability. Cardwell (1996) described this type of decision making as “satisficing”, which he said is evaluating alternatives until satisfaction is determined. This way of decision making is more common when alternatives need to be generated in order to make a choice. The idea of uncertainty with decision making has been explored in a limited capacity in fields such as economics and medical science. However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, social and behavioral scientists as a whole have turned their attention to this area of research; understanding the effects of uncertainty on a population’s mental well-being and decision-making processes and thus identifying optimal strategies for managing such uncertainty. This is fundamentally important as the consequences of decisional mistakes in uncertain times could be critical not only affecting the individual but society as a whole.
4.3. Strategies to Enhance Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty
First and foremost, resilience is a process of adaptation in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as job loss, relationship problems, financial burdens or the death of a loved one. It is where individuals know how to employ their brains and remain positive in times of events, and bounce back after difficult. According to a study by Masten (2001), the process of resilience involves a series of interactions between the individual and their systems – families, culture and so on. Residential trait play as a promotive factor in reducing or even eliminating the health disparity. Luthar et al. (2000) defined a “resilient child” as a youth who does well despite high-risk status, sustained competence under stress or adversity, or recovery from trauma. Residential trait is a characteristic or a set of characteristic in a person which leads to better physically or mentality. These traits could be at different level. For example, some people simply have a higher degree of overall “hardiness” which contributes to their general likelihood of good health. On the other hand, there are people which possess very high degree of mastery and control over the environment that influence wellness; some people are more positive and optimistic in their outlook toward life and could deal with harsh circumstance. All these traits lead to better wellness physically and mentally. Then, Hicks (2003) explained that the process of resilience also involves other variables – attachment, temperamental, IQ, affection, social support and so forth. For example, he said that parent and child attachment is correlated highly with other social, emotional and cognitive competencies that foster resilience. Yet, he pointed out constructions of resilience require sensitivity to cultural and contextual factors. It was argued that there is evidence to suggest possibilities of culture-associated protective factors in Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans. For example, positive influence of spirituality has been researched and established. In brief, resilience had been continuously investigated; both entity-roiCreative. It had been agreed that resilience is a dynamic process which involves the interaction between individuals and their environment. Yet, comparison could still be made and conclusions could be reached. It is believed that adequate nurturing in early childhood, temperament, social support, self-esteem and optimistic worldview are key elements in a resilient individual. On the way forward in my wishes to develop resilience, there are several aspects that needs to be focused on. First, efforts should be made to the social emotional learning that promote the students’ building of positive relationship with other and have more confident in their own ability. This is important because students would need to know how to avail themselves of the support systems in their lives. Also, it is essential to enrich knowledge into the youth development so that more skills and competencies could be fostered. At this time, it is important to appreciate their own ability as a student to get involve in activities and have slight control of what they are doing. Finally, in my point of view, a positive school climate is important. This is because relationships are chance to grow and all the members of the school community could work in cohesive way as they foster and support every student’s wellbeing. By doing so, students are less likely to feel lonely, isolated and alienated. Also, there are many potential for enhancement. For example, more studies need to be done on whether the characteristics behind the temperament are established genetically. Also, it is important to study the effect of the broad societal factors on children and families; for example, poverty, violence and racism. Last but not least, it is important to study and find out the effectiveness of the prevention and intervention programmes that foster resilience. Every little thing that we do would means a world to the bettermenCreative.
5. Conclusion
Finally, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this research not only expands the knowledge of the effects of panic, isolation, and uncertainty on psychological and physical well-being, but also enriches the conversations on health crisis management and risk communication. Practices and measures to better manage and mitigate these negative effects in the population can be drawn from the findings of this study. A multi-faceted approach is required that aims to identify, assess, and manage the level of panic in the community, and at the same time, to cultivate a state of resilience and adaptive coping to turn a potentially growth of uncertainty into a positive drive for personal and societal development. First and foremost, enhance transparencies between all stakeholders about the condition of the pandemic and the steps taken by the government and scientific teams. It is essential to repeatedly and properly disseminate knowledge and information of the pandemic, including its nature, its progression, and precautionary measures. This will help to reduce uncertainties in different aspects, such as diagnosis, treatments, and future outlook, and hence minimize the adverse impacts at the cognitive and emotional level. On the other hand, proper strategy needs to be devised to prevent and control panic, especially in the face of fast-spreading outbreak and limited medical resources. Apart from legal regulations and law enforcement actions, targeted communication efforts that dispel misunderstanding and rumor and instill confidence and rational thoughts in people should be carried out. In addition, the reporting of panic phenomena and cases should be coordinated in the health system so that an evidence-based, graded response strategy can be executed. Last but not least, this research implies that crisis and risk communication should incorporate the knowledge and strategies in managing the public’s informational, emotional, and behavioral needs in different pandemic phases with scientific basis in panic response and mental resilience. All of these elements found in the essay are woven together to suggest productive avenues for further research and set the stage for a well-informed body of academic literature—a meaningful conclusion in light of the present health crisis.
5.1. Summary of Findings
Finally, the study also found that individuals who feel responsible to others are more likely to be resilient when feeling uncertain. The research recommends policy-makers and scientists to focus on minimizing uncertainty in a social and environmental context. Premier focus should be directed towards reducing the gaps between the rich and the poor and conducting programs to help decrease uncertainty in individuals. Besides interventions to reduce uncertainty, more research should focus on the effectiveness of strategies in reducing uncertainty and that improving uncertainty tolerance will lead to better decision-making and better well-being for an individual. The researchers also suggest developing online interventions, targeted at those vulnerable and socially isolated individuals, that aim to increase social connectedness and that policy-makers should ensure the equal provision of healthcare services. Well-designed and evidence-based interventions, directed at reducing loneliness and promoting connectedness, should be put in place to tackle the negative impact of social isolation and loneliness. The study also found that there are increased mortality and morbidity risks.
Secondly, the research found that isolation and loneliness have significant and long-lasting negative effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. It was established that there are increased mortality and morbidity risks for individuals who are socially isolated. Furthermore, the research found that feelings of uncertainty trigger cognitive and emotional responses which subsequently have an impact on behavior and well-being. The study recommends engaging individuals in acts of generosity and community, fostering a sense of purpose and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to enhance resilience.
The study found that panic not only has negative psychological and behavioral effects, such as depression and irrational behavior, but also hinders public health interventions because panic makes people prioritize self-interest over the common good. The researchers propose focusing on providing timely and accurate information, maintaining routine and predictability, and strengthening social connections and mutual support to manage and minimize panic.
5.2. Implications for Public Health
On the whole, the knowledge gleaned from this descriptive study provides important insights that may have clinical and public health implications. First, our findings indicate that ensuring adequate resources are available for public engagement to address the spread of misinformation may have positive consequences for population mental health. Emergency responses that prioritize engaging the public to disseminate accurate information and reduce the spread of misinformation might help break the feedback loop from panic to further spread of false information, and mitigate the negative impact of panic on mental health and public health. Second, the finding that different psychological factors contribute to the level of panic experienced by an individual suggests that a one-size-fits-all strategy may not be effective in managing population panic in emergency crises. Tailoring interventions to address the unique profiles and symptoms of individuals may improve the effectiveness of interventions. Lastly, given the increased level of paranoia and higher level of panic the population has observed, especially when there was a confirmed case and the outbreak turned into a local epidemic, the strategies identified may help engage the public to prevent a worsening of panic during public health crises. Our study suggests that such engagement may mitigate the impact of panic on mental health and public health. These findings contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how to manage and ameliorate the impact of panic during public health crises. We propose that researchers and public health professionals should begin to consider both the physical and mental health impacts of panic on the population, and evaluate how embracing public engagement, tailoring interventions, and promoting resilience may help mitigate these impacts. This may be particularly important when there is a well-documented negative history of public mental health following different public health emergencies such as SARS and Ebola. More studies could further evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed strategies identified from the present research, using a larger sample and better-powered study design. Future studies may also address temporal changes in panic levels and symptomatology and evaluate the concurrent validity of the proposed panic stages.
5.3. Recommendations for Future Research
The authors conclude by recommending a number of areas for future research. Some of the recommendations have emerged from their own research, either because the research raised further questions or because the day-to-day reality of conducting the research suggested areas of improvement. The authors recommend extending their research to other contexts and populations, such as exploring the role of personalized risk communication for people with different levels of medical literacy and self-efficacy from different socio-economic backgrounds. This could be done through testing the effectiveness of different formats and visualization techniques for conveying probabilistic information, in order to identify those that are most engaging and supportive of good decision-making for different groups of people. The authors also suggest that this area of study could be extended by exploring the psychological effects and decision-making processes during other types of health-related environmental stress and concern, such as air quality indices or food hygiene alerts. They feel that the most significant advancement to public policy and practice in this area is likely to come from more multidisciplinary research. By collaborating with researchers from fields such as human factors, ergonomics, and health and safety, who have expertise in user-centered design and the development and evaluation of complex decision support systems, it may be possible to design technologies that integrate the latest understanding of cognitive and emotional responses to risk with the need to provide user control, feedback, and learning. The authors also recommend that advocacy for greater attention to the psychological and social aspects of the public response to risk is important. They suggest that funding and commissioning opportunities are more likely to be forthcoming if the potential for research in this area to deliver progress not just in understanding but in practical improvements to public resilience, health protection, and medical outcomes. And finally, the authors acknowledge the strong links between the three areas of research in panic, isolation, and uncertainty that have been explored in the study. They suggest that investigating these experiences both individually and in light of each other could be beneficial in terms of identifying complex, cyclical, and reinforcing patterns of response and adaptation.

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