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What’s More Dangerous: Coronavirus or Panic?

It would be foolish to not take precautions and completely ignore the potential risks of coronavirus. We have to be careful. But panic is not the solution. In fact, panicking is the worst thing that we can do for ourselves and others. Panic and fear, in reality, is our greatest risk in this situation. 

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Coronavirus has become a worldwide health scare. And almost everyone is panicking about it.

So, is coronavirus truly dangerous? Should you worry or not worry? What’s the verdict?

Let’s look at the facts.

As I write this, the COVID-19 virus has infected more than 120,000 people and killed more than 4,300 in 113 countries. If you’re running around hunting for masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes to help you protect from this fatal disease, let’s help you get a better perspective. The seasonal flu kills upwards of 650,000 people worldwide every year. Shouldn’t this staggering number induce even greater fear and panic in you?

Let’s look at other potent health dangers to be worried and fearful about. In the US alone, heart disease kills 650,000 people every year, followed by cancer taking 600,000, and then accidents taking third place. But these occurrences have become so common that even if they appear in the headlines tomorrow, no one will panic; they’ve all become a fact of life.

But COVID-19 is new and unknown, and that’s why it’s gathering attention from millions around the world. Yes, more than 4,000 deaths are tragic but as compared to other rampant diseases, this number is too small to warrant a global panic perpetuated by incessant media firestorms.

Let’s talk about the seriousness of coronavirus as compared to previous pandemics. Here’s what the World Health Organization has to say:

  • 80% of those who become infected with this virus make a full recovery without any special treatment.
  • 1 in 5 people will get seriously ill and need medical treatment.
  • This is not a disease that seems to affect our children. (that’s good news!)
  • SARS was deadlier (mortality rate was 10%), but coronavirus is more infectious (mortality rate is 3-4%).

Of course, it would be foolish to not take precautions and completely ignore the potential risks of coronavirus. We have to be careful. But panic is not the solution. In fact, panicking is the worst thing that we can do for ourselves and others. Panic and fear, in reality, is our greatest risk in this situation.

Fear and panic can make rational people do irrational things. As Lao Tzu said, “There is no illusion greater than fear.” When you succumb to fear, then panic, you end up making the pandemic worse than it actually is. It’s human to feel anxious and afraid and natural to get concerned in this crisis, but we must cultivate fearlessness and take charge over the primal programming in our brain. 

Whether we’ll be directly affected by virus or not, we’re all going to be indirectly affected. The stock market is plummeting, stores are running out of inventory, schools, colleges, museums and movie theaters are closing, factories are ceasing production, and many public gatherings and conferences are being canceled or postponed. While all these occurrences can be extremely annoying, if we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, we will realize that these setbacks are just mere inconveniences that we can all deal with. 

Nothing is permanent, and because we humans are extremely adaptable, in order to get to the other side of this prevailing pandemic safely and healthfully, it’s best that we endure this temporary pain and discomfort. While we must be wary of the hyperbole that floats around us, we must also practice self-regulation and slow down. At least for a while, both for ourselves and others. As paradoxical as it may sound, social distancing is the best way to express our love for others and take care of them.

This crisis is a great opportunity to become an effective leader, whether at home, at work or in the community. You might have to cancel plans, suffer losses and make tough decisions. You might have to make some sacrifices and share the burden of this challenging situation. Organizers of major events like Coachella, SXSW, the Houston Rodeo, and the London Book Fair have canceled these despite huge monetary losses. Because air travel has been severely affected, Southwest Airlines’ CEO has taken a voluntary 10% pay cut, while United’s CEO and President have both suspended their own salaries until June. These are some incredible gestures of leadership. 

Here are some ways you too can step up no matter who you are and what title you hold, and be a shining example in this crisis: 

Be well informed: Misinformation leads to fear and panic, which causes people to act in irrational ways. As the adage goes, “Half knowledge is always dangerous.” That’s why, commit to educating yourself. Staying informed can go a long away in staving off negative consequences that can be a lot worse than the cause of a catastrophe itself. If you would like to get daily updates about the coronavirus outbreak, make sure you get them from a trusted and reliable source

Take the necessary precautions: Make sure that you follow all the health and safety advice provided by the World Health Organization on their website. Some basic protective measures are: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, stay at least 1 meter (3 feet) away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, and practice respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And if you have cough, fever or difficult breathing, get in touch with your doctor right now.

Be a Stoic: This a great time to practice Stoicism and focus exclusively on what we can control and let go of what we can’t. No matter what circumstances we encounter, we always have absolute control of our thoughts, words and actions. We can stay calm and cultivate stillness within us and not let fear and panic drive us to irrational behavior. We can see things as they are, and not let our judgments affect the way we perceive them. Now is a wonderful opportunity to embrace and embody the four Stoic virtues — Wisdom, Courage, Justice and Temperance. We can all choose to become well-informed and act wisely. To act with fearlessness instead of getting influenced by fear-inducing stories broadcasted by news channels and various media 24/7. To do the right thing in spite of our personal and professional losses. And to practice self-control whenever and wherever required.

Show up as a responsible global citizen: Coronavirus is not the first or the worst global pandemic that we humans have faced. Nor is it going to be the last one. It’s futile to constantly worry about this crisis and how bad things will get in the immediate future. What matters the most is how we are all going to show up and handle this worldwide emergency. In every challenging situation, we have a choice: to let fear and panic overpower us or to show up as responsible global citizens and work together for the good of the whole. We can all practice the Stoic notion of sympatheia. We are not alone, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. The truth is that when others suffer, we suffer. When the world goes through pain due to a catastrophe, we go through that pain as well. To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, what’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee as well. We are not citizens of one particular country, we’re all citizens of the world. What harms the world community, also harms the individual. The sooner we accept this notion of cosmopolitanism, the bigger impact and contribution we’ll be able to make. We are all part of the same mighty living being. We all share the resources of the same planet. Instead of cultivating a narrow-minded perception of life, we need to take a broader perspective. We all have a duty to work for the greater good. It’s important that we show up as best versions of ourselves in this crisis. That we let go of our selfish concerns and look after each other, after all, we’re all in this together.


PS: Stay informed and act accordingly. Panic is not the solution, good thinking and necessary precautions are. Distance is temporary, good health is long-lasting. 🏃

Sending love to all of you. ❤️


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Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

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