Karen Nimmo's been thinking about anxiety in these troubled times. Photo: RNZ/ Angela Vidal

Anxiety is contagious – and these are anxious times. If you can’t stop worrying about it … maybe it’s time to stop talking about it all the time, especially in front of the kids.  

So. Things are getting pretty weird.

Australians are fighting with each other over toilet paper. Americans are queueing around the block to buy handguns. Some social media attention seekers are licking toilet seats.

And this is understandable, to a point. We’re heading into the dark with Covid-19, and humans are scared of the dark: it’s unknown, mysterious, and very possibly dangerous.

But what sort of mental toll is this taking? How should we be talking to our kids about Covid-19? And if you know you’re an irrational worrier, how do you manage that?

Psychologist Karen Nimmo has issued some sage advice about combating your coronavirus fears – included among it, maybe ration your news intake … and stop talking about it so much at home, especially in front of the children.

“It’s all around us … there are experts talking about it, it’s new and it’s uncertain, every day and often every hour we’re getting fresh updates. So of course you’re going to be anxious.

“And you have to remember too that for many people dying is their greatest fear. So the end game for coronavirus is death, and people often can’t move their thoughts away from that.”

Nimmo says the big threat is mass anxiety – a sort of “mania” in which people follow group actions, rather than critically evaluating the facts.

It’s this sort of thought process that leads people to physically accost one another over a few rolls of toilet paper; it kicks rational thought and action out the window – and it can happen to the most level-headed people among us.

And it’s catching.

She tells Emile Donovan in today’s podcast that she had a client the other day who was very worried about the virus … Nimmo managed to calm her down but by the time she left … she could feel that anxiety herself.

“My heart started to beat quicker and I felt a little bit of a ripple – which, I’m not an anxious person – and it was a good reminder to me about how quickly that can transfer, when someone around you is anxious,” she says.

Not all people think alike, because different people have different priorities and threat levels.

It might be irrational for a healthy 30-year-old to worry about Covid-19 killing them; but it’s a bit different if you’re a 90-year-old who’s just finished a chemotherapy course.

Although that 90-year-old has probably already faced down death, so they would have a new perspective on it, Nimmo says.

A big issue facing many parents is figuring out how to talk to your children about Covid-19: you don’t want to underplay it, but you also don’t want to traumatise an eight-year-old.

Nimmo says if both parents are worried about it, maybe don’t talk about it so much – especially not where flapping ears are taking it all in.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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