This Is Why You’re Afraid Of Ebola (Despite The Fact That You’re Not Going To Get Infected)

Even though the chances that you’re going to get Ebola in the United States are extremely, extremely low, it is all the hell over my news feed and it’s been making me freak out. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve been trying to avoid reading about it because I’m afraid that it’ll make me even more worried, but at this point just reading the headlines and noting their frequency and their tone of urgency is probably worse than actually engaging with literature on it.

It’s all well and good to say “You’re not going to get Ebola!” But I think what’s even more helpful is understanding what’s going on in your head that makes you think you are going to get Ebola, or might get it, despite all the evidence. Understanding your brain’s wackiness might be just as valuable as understanding the disease. Dr. Graham Davey at Psychology Today explains that these are five of the ways that your psychology might be disposing you to worry more than you need to about Ebola:

1. You think things are “dangerous until proven safe.” Most people — about 60 percent — believe that things are “safe until proven dangerous.” You might be one of the 40 percent of people who’s biased toward assuming that there’s danger in the world. Dr. Davey notes that most people are bad at evaluating risk, and if you tend to err on the side of believing that you are at risk for [fill-in-the-blank] in all situations, you will almost certainly overestimate your risk for contracting Ebola.

2. You’re highly “disgust-sensitive” and and have a psychological aversion to contaminants. You might say, “Isn’t everyone?” No, not really; think about nurses and doctors. They deal with blood, urine, vomit, mucus, and feces every day. Ladies, every time you go to your gynecologist, a nurse has to handle your urine sample. No, not everyone is disgust-sensitive. But if you’re not in the habit or practice of being in contact with bodily fluids as a normal part of your life, chances are you’re repulsed by an exaggerated perception of their dangerous ability to transmit germs.

3. You have anxiety or depression, and it makes you focus on potential threats. This makes sense: When you’re in a bad mood, you tend to be more alert to things that are potentially harmful to you. If you feel like bad things have happened to you, you don’t want more bad things to happen to you. The result is that you might be over-blowing the risk of them happening.

4. You’re fearful of things you can’t see. To you, things like trucks barreling down the road, human assailants, guns, etc., all seem like manageable threats because you can visually identify and avoid them. Because contaminants are microscopic, you have no idea where they are — which makes you fear that they could be anywhere. It is not the nature of Ebola, however, to spread merely by being in its presence.

5. You’ve been hearing so much about Ebola that it seems like a more widespread problem than it is. When you hear the world “Ebola” a hundred times a day, it makes it seem like it’s already present in your life, like you’re living in a world that’s full of Ebola when the reality is that it’s possible that 24 people will be infected with Ebola in the United States by the end of October. That’s 24 out of 318 million, and most of those 24 have been identified and being quarantined.

I’m going to propose another:

6. You know so little about the continent of Africa that everything about it seems foreign and strange and potentially threatening. Maybe you see Africa as a monolith, a place where everyone and everything is the same across the entire continent despite the fact that it is tremendously culturally and economically diverse. Maybe you don’t know the geographic difference between Nigeria and Kenya even though they’re on opposite sides of the continent, even though Lagos and Nairobi are as far apart as Myrtle Beach and Los Angeles, and they’re on the skinny part of the continent. Maybe you don’t know what life looks like in various African countries. Maybe when you hear about Africa on the news, you hear about things like “Africanized” bees that kill people — even though those bees don’t kill people and could just as adequately be called “Europeanized,” since they were the result of cross-breeding between bee species originating in both Africa and Europe. Maybe you think that health systems in Africa are inadequate, even though Nigeria and Senegal have already contained the Ebola outbreak. Maybe it’s time to start learning!

So seriously, let’s calm down. It’s flu season, and thousands of people in America die because of influenza every year. Go get vaccinated and keep your head on your shoulders.

[Daily Kos]
[Psychology Today]
[Bloomberg]
[International Business Times]
[CDC]

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