Panic Not. Lest Emotional Contagion Cause More Harm Than Coronavirus

My family straddles three continents – Asia, Australia and America. None have been spared the wave of fear which has swept across the world much faster than the virus consuming our airwaves. Sure, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is highly contagious. Downplaying its potency and failing to work to contain its spread is harmful. 


Fear is contagious too. And allowing ourselves to be swept up into a collective panic doesn’t strengthen our ability to manage the threat of Covid-19. It weakens it. 

The hysteria that has highjacked rational thinking in recent days has already wreaked immense havoc. Indeed, its ripple effect of fear gone viral may well exact a far steeper toll on human life and livelihoods than the virus itself. 

So it’s not Covid-19 that frightens me the most right now. It’s the impact on the millions of people across the globe whose lives and livelihoods are being upended by our response to it.

The world’s gone mad,” my eighty-year-old mother said to me yesterday. “Why toilet paper?” she asked, referring to the panic buying that emptied left supermarket shelves in the usually quiet, calm rural area of East Gippsland, Australia where she lives. 

“I’m not quite sure,” I replied. After all, coronavirus does not cause diarrhoea. 

But it’s not just toilet paper. Stockpiling obscene amounts of dry goods for a post-apocalyptic world. Hoarding face-masks, despite health professionals, repeated statements that they’re only useful in stopping the infected from spreading the virus, not the healthy from catching it. The world may not have gone mad, but it has certainly tilted on its axis leaving many feeling decidedly off-kilter. 

My immune system is strong and I’m quite confident that if I contracted this virus, I’d weather it well enough. So what concerns me is not the virus itself, but the fall out from the untamed fear and panicked response it has triggered.

On small business owners who, unable to make payroll, will have to lay people off. On casual workers, and their children, who may end up going hungry. On my children, with classes moving classes online (and my daughters dream television internship… cancelled). On the mental health of people across the globe. Quarantined into apartments, disconnected from others, unable to keep jobs, trade wares, book flights, make money, and do what helps them pay their rent and feed their families. 

I know our primitive “monkey brain” can highjack higher-order thinking when it perceives threat; that it’s wired for fear-casting – overestimating the risks and underestimating our ability to cope with them. However, I also know that as potent as fear can be, that we humans are capable of rising above our lowest, primal, inclinations. 

We do it when we refuse to let other people’s fears become our own and proactively arm ourselves with facts from reliable sources such as this one. I share others in this very homemade video below.

We do it when practical radical self-disciple, refuse to binge watch sensationalist media and exit conversations that thrive on conspiracy theories, wild speculation and catastrophizing Armageddon-like worst case scenarios. All of which only stoke our stress and lower our immune systems ability to combat bugs of every kind.

We do it when we consciously do more of what make us feel stronger – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually — grounding us into our deepest values and aligning our energy to what infuses our lives with meaning, positivity and purpose.

We do it when we stop focusing on what lays outside our control and start taking 100% ownership for optimizing what lays within it – our physical, mental and emotional state.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words have never felt so true: that the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself. It’s why rock climbers say it’s not the mountain that kills, it’s the fear.

Next month I was supposed to be doing a speaking/media/book tour across the United States for my new book You’ve Got This! Needless to say, my own plans have been turned on their head. But as I wrote in You’ve Got This!, when fear runs high, the need for courage runs higher. So before you do anything else today do this:


Breath in calm. Breath out fear. Breath in calm again.

Then wash your hands. Take run. Eat your veggies. Do a guided meditation. Call a friend. Hug your cat. Walk your dog. Play your guitar. Listen to Hillsong. Read something that lifts your spirit. Then wash your hands again.

Let’s calm down, respond constructively and not make a difficult situation worse. After all, if history has taught us anything, it’s that we can survive difficult times and emerge from them better off.

This one is no exception.



Margie Warrell wrote her latest book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself to help people trust themselves more deeply – in periods of adversity and in pursuit of their boldest aspirations.