It’s another sunny day in lockdown here in the UK and, while perhaps many of us would like to gather with our families and set out for a lovely morning stroll, unfortunately right now that just isn’t allowed. Of course, you can if you live with them, but having flown the nest in 2011, I no longer fit that criteria.
Today, I want to talk about something that everyone worries about with the Coronavirus pandemic. Not just the risk of catching it, but indeed, the risk of dying from it. If you’re anything like I can be, then you have an all too common habit of falling into a catastrophic thinking cycle at the mere mention of death. Your chances of having only mild symptoms or only needing some hospital treatment don’t come into consideration. In your mind, catching the novel Coronavirus for you or your family will be the very end. Yes?
If you haven’t already, please whip back and take a look at this post on handling cognitive distortions, including catastrophic thinking. Our own minds can be very negative and deeply critical, and so challenging them by asking some critical questions can help things seem a little less scary.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, no matter how much we’d like to prevent it, there is always the risk that you or someone you love will catch and die from Covid-19. No matter how many preventative measures we take (and trust me, my hands are red and sore!), there is no guarantees. A perhaps small chance, but absolutely no guarantees here.
While I was in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I was taught how to calculate the risk of the thing I feared happening. Indeed, at the time my fearful thought was that I would get mad and stab someone, but then I learned that nearly everyone has these thoughts, few people end up acting on them, and even fewer harm someone. In reality then, the amount of precautions that I was taking (avoiding sharp things, choosing not to be with someone I considered weaker than me) was excessive to the real risk of me actually killing someone. Try telling that to my mind!
Of course, what we’re dealing with right here is not just OCD, it’s a pandemic and a virus that sadly thousands of people have died from. If you watch too much news, the number of people dying from Coronavirus can seem relentless and so our perception of the disease is skewed. To help you pull things into perspective, I want to teach you how to calculate your risk, using the figures that apply to myself.
First of all, in a population of approximately 454,074 people here in Bristol, there are currently 41 confirmed cases at the time of writing. To calculate what percentage of the population I am, we need to work out what percentage 1 person equates to, like so:
100/ 454,074 = 0.0002202284% . That’s me.
Next, we need to multiply that by how many people are infected at present:
0.00022202284 x 41= 0.0090293644.
So assuming I ignore all of the precautions about social distancing and hand washing (and those who should be self-isolating aren’t self-siloating at all!), that, at this present time, is my risk of catching and developing Covid-19, 0.009% . 9 in 100,000.
Now, let’s say I managed to come into contact with one infected person and developed Covid-19. What is my risk, at this present time, of being one of the people in my city to die from the disease?
The current figure for people in my age range who die from Covid-19 is 0.2%, so we do:
0.009 x 0.2 = 0.0018. 18 in 10,000, or 1 in 556.
And don’t forget, that’s based on current figures, not washing my hands, not cleaning frequently-touched surfaces, not following social distancing rules and not avoiding people who aren’t well. If I take some simple precautions, I can help keep the chances of that 1 from ever happening!
Of course, as more cases are identified, we can expect this figure to increase. It also doesn’t take into consideration underlying health conditions or your lifestyle, such as smoking, vaping and drinking or your access to quality healthcare, and so as such it is a flawed estimate, rather than a guarantee. If ever there was a time to try and be a bit healthier, a global pandemic might just be it!
Lastly, while this calculation can give us an estimated risk which can help gain some perspective to manage our anxiety, please remember that it is an estimate only – there are no guarantees. If you want to avoid Covid-19 to the best of your abilities and avoid passing it on to others who may be more vulnerable,
Remember to wash you hands regularly and practice social distancing!
Shades Of Gray
When it comes to cognitive distortions and particularly catastrophic thinking, we can fall into another cognitive distortion known as black-or-white thinking. Under the current scenario, that means to say that we think of people as either alive or dead. We think of those not diagnosed with Covid-19 as alive, and those who have a diagnosis as dead or dying. Because of the media, this is an easy and unfortunate conclusion to make.
It’s important to follow the trend lines and notice the rates of recovery. Indeed, while tragically thousands of people have died, there are also those people who require hospitalization and even critical care, who have then recovered. If we think in “shades of gray” here, we can see that Covid-19 is not an immediate death sentence. Some people do just need to stay in hospital for a little while, then get better. Even in spite of the number of people who die from Covid-19, around 85% recover, and much of your chances of recovery depend on your age, overall health and access to good healthcare in your country. Instead of focusing solely on the thousands who have died, try also to think about the 100,000+ who have recovered!
The Good News
While we can also focus on the risks of death, it’s important to keep a balanced perspective. Indeed, there are many people and celebrities including Tom Hanks and Idris Ilba who received a diagnosis after developing symptoms, but then were able to self-isolate and recover at home. Covid-19 can be exceptionally dangerous for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, but for most people who are otherwise fit and healthy, a recovery is more likely.
Also try to keep in mind all of the ways in which the world is working together right now to end this pandemic. Test kits are being made in their thousands and more and more people are being screened. Slowly but surely, China is now returning to a life out of lockdown and cases in Italy appear to be slowing down. There are also several vaccines being developed and tested in several parts of the world which will allow us to return to normality once they have been approved. It is a scary time and none of us know if or when we will develop the novel Coronavirus, but by taking some precautions and by looking after our physical and mental wellbeing, we can go a long way in increasing our chances of recovery, should the virus ever find us.
Be Bold, Be Bright, Be Beautiful,
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