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There has been growing anxiety over the H1N1 influenza. This appears to have been compounded by extensive media coverage, including conflicting information about the availability, safety and effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine, about the severity of the illness, and the rapid spread of the virus. In addition, details about people who have died from H1N1 (particularly young, healthy individuals) have been widely broadcast by the media.



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This tempest of conflicting information has given rise to a tremendous amount of uncertainty, thereby leading to an increase in worry and anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal and natural emotion
that we all experience from time to time. We often feel anxious when we face an important event such as a job interview. Most importantly, anxiety is essential for our survival. It is referred to as the “flight or fight” response that protects us when we perceive a threat or a danger; we either fight or flee from danger to protect ourselves.


It is when anxiety becomes frequent, intense, severe and prolonged that it likely compromises our quality of life, leads to irrational or excessive fear, increased psychological distress, and difficulty coping with our daily functioning.


“Part of the confusion around H1N1 arises from the fact that we seem to have experts providing conflicting information ranging from stating that getting the vaccination is safe and effective to warning that the necessary clinical trials have not been completed in order to be able to make this statement,” explains Dr. Eilenna Denisoff, Clinical Psychologist and Director of CBT Associates of Toronto.

In regards to H1N1, excessive anxiety will only increase overall psychological distress. As anxiety increases:

We experience great difficulty tolerating uncertainty or accepting that we cannot have control over the situation.
Our thinking becomes more negative, such that we tend to overestimate the threat or danger and underestimate our coping abilities.
We also tend to select and recall the more “threatening” information and disregard or discount the remaining information.

Washing our hands regularly as recommended by the medical experts is important to minimize exposure to germs. However, in case of excessive anxiety, we might wash our hands so excessively to the point of having broken skin.
We might seek excessive reassurance; for instance, constantly searching for information online or contacting our physician repeatedly.

We might even give up our activities and avoid going out.Some of our behavioural changes can provide a sense of comfort in the short term, but they serve to increase and maintain our fear and anxiety in the long run.

The following steps are a few suggestions for coping and managing anxiety about H1N1:

Adopt a more balanced perspective and reduce negativity keeping in mind that anxiety leads to an overestimation of danger. The fact is that most people who have contracted the H1N1 flu have recovered.

Gather accurate information to educate yourself and then determine the reasonable precautions you need to take to protect yourself. At the same time, set a limit as to how much you decide to watch the media coverage, so as to help decrease worry and anxiety.
Self-care is very important to reduce distress and to maintain a better quality of life: Eat a healthy diet, do regular physical exercise, seek social support, engage in pleasurable activities and integrate these activities into your daily routine.

Seek help if needed: If you experience intense anxiety such that it interferes with your daily functioning or activities, you might want to contact a mental health professional such as a psychologist, to find helpful and adaptive coping strategies to overcome your psychological distress.

Remember that there are resources that can help you cope with your problems, if needed. Think about how you overcame adversities in the past and do not underestimate your ability to cope with challenges and overcome current adversity.
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