Fear of Ebola Spreading is Still Palpable - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

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As we continue to learn more and more about Ebola one thing stays consistent: people’s fear of Ebola spreading is still here. It’s interesting how greater knowledge and healthy reason doesn’t always (or usually) change the emotion—no matter how many statistics we read, this rarely changes our feelings about social issues.

It becomes a conundrum, then, in deciding what separates media that is scaremongering from media that is providing helpful facts.

I’d feel that I was being the former (the scaremonger-er) if I didn’t talk a bit about this before checking in on how my readers have been taking emotional care of themselves during this time. My previous post on fear of Ebola spreading can be found here and another article on GoodTherapy.org’s site here. I write each month at GoodTherapy and this article generated a bunch of comments, some from people talking about how they’ve been managing and how this has been a challenge for them.

Seeking the Answer in What You’ve Already Succeeded At

How you deal with your fear of Ebola spreading is likely linked to how you deal with most fears. You’ve probably found some ways to manage some of your fears even if you continue to seek other more helpful alternatives. If you have a moment and you’re not feeling stricken, take that time to examine what allows you to be calm. What allowed you to forget about your fear, even if it was just for a few moments. Solution Focused Therapists call this looking for exceptions. This is definitely something I encourage my clients to do. What often happens in therapy is that the client already has much of the answers, they just need help unearthing them.

I would encourage the person in my office (or on my blog) who has a fear of Ebola spreading to think back over the last year or so and recall a time that they were scared about something, anything, and then explore that to see how they got through it. That’s the kicker, right? They—you—somehow got through that time and got to the office. You may not have liked how you did it, you may want to find a new, more effective, healthier way, but it shows me that we have something to work with.

What Was Different?

This also has the added benefit of allowing you to recognize how much power you already have over making the changes you want to make in your life. Before we delve deeper in treatment I find it helpful to discover what got the person, say, with an alcohol problem to stop drinking the other night (not become sober, but how did he or she stop that particular night). Was there a night that your child went right to bed without a fight? What was different about that time? Did you go to a party and find yourself having a good time in spite of your usual social anxiety? What was different this time?

Instead of starting to pick apart the worst times I always take time in my sessions to pick apart the best ones. It doesn’t ruin them, I promise, it just teaches us how you can be more the you that you want to be. We don’t ignore the other times, but armed with what can go well, we have a different energy to examine the nightmare.

We’ve strayed a bit from the fear of Ebola spreading which many of you came here for, but I don’t think it’s that separate. We’re not fixing the outbreak, and the outbreak is scary, but we are finding a way to not avoid the fear and not let it overwhelm us by indulging it. Fear of Ebola spreading is one of those shared fears—and that is different from a fear where thinking you’re the only one just adds to your shame. The challenge with this fear is that talking about it to others may lead to fanning flames instead of cooling them.

An Exercise in How You Deal with Fear
    • Caveat: If just seeing the word brings up the fear of Ebola spreading then I’d suggest experimenting with some new coping mechanisms before continuing. Jump to the second to last paragraph and skip the exercise. You already know how you deal with fear and that’s the first step.

For those of my readers for whom more knowledge is helpful—knowledge that isn’t parading as a scare tactic—check out what the great people over at Infographic World Blog have to say in their informative visual essay called Ebola: Understanding the Disease. It’s helpful, it’s enlightening, it’s good information to have.

When you’re done, take stock of how you feel.

Did it calm you or did it cause more panic? Do you feel that armed with more knowledge about Ebola’s history gives you more power to effectively live your life or do you want to hide under a rock even more than before. This is good information for you to have. It lets you know, if you didn’t already, how you take in information and how you work with your feelings.

If you haven’t heard, the man in New York, Dr. Spencer, who tested positive for Ebola has been discharged from the hospital. This is great news and can give even the most worried among us some hope from the fear of Ebola spreading.

If you’re still struggling with these fears and they are impacting your day to day, it may be helpful for you to talk to someone. Not to totally take away all fears—as enticing as that may seem now, fear and anxiety do serve an important purpose for us—but to become better able to let fear inform your life instead of run your life.

If you’d like to chat further, feel free to email me here.


Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.