With the coronavirus spreading and measures are taken to protect US citizens, life has changed quickly for everyone. In a Talkspace article, author Nadav Druker discusses the impact of optimism and pessimism during the coronavirus.
Some have taken the news calmly, choosing to view the virus with a lax view and forgoing protection measures. Others have panicked and wondered when life will return to normal. The implementation of new rules and procedures and the constant media coverage can raise a number of emotions for consumers, be it fear and doubt or hope and clarity.
With an adjustment to new protocols comes the waxing and waning of hope and despair as we are all faced with a new reality of living with the coronavirus. How well a person adjusts can determine whether or not they will cope with the stress or develop psychological disorders because of it.
Druker cites a study that links pessimism with increased stress and psychological problems like anxiety and depression. On the other hand, pessimism was linked to better adjustment and coping of emotions and expectations of outcomes.
Even though an optimistic outlook and constructive actions show positive mental health outcomes in individuals, it can have a downside. According to Druker, it can result in innate bias.
Throughout the article, Drunker references a survey titled Optimistic Beliefs About the Personal Impact of COVID 19. According to the survey, participants who are optimistic can pose a danger to public safety while they believe they have a lower chance of contracting COVID 19.
The optimistic person might assume they are less likely to contract COVID 19. Having an optimistic view might get a person through challenging times and build a sense of personal safety. Enough so that they will eschew safety protocols like wearing a mask, reducing public contact, and washing hands frequently.
As an example of this phenomenon, he then referenced college students who went to Spring Break destinations even though the CDC warned them not to. When they returned home, those students learned that they tested positive for COVID 19 and some spread it to their families
In this instance, comparative optimism is at play. Meaning, people who believe they are doing a better job than others will not be as diligent in following the protocols for safety. This in turn increases their chances of contraction for themselves and others. The more optimistic the participant was about not infecting others, the less likely they deemed these methods of safety necessary. This form of optimism poses a danger to public safety.
Druker also mentions another survey with American participants titled “When Private Optimism Meets Public Despair: Dissociable Effects on Behavior and Wellbeing.” Here, researchers explain how people who experience comparative optimism are less likely to follow suggested safety measures.
Public pessimism was found to be associated with following distancing and safety protocols. Even though these people had a more negative view or the sickness of those around them, they were more concerned with the health of the community. This concern encouraged individuals to take more care in protecting themselves in order to protect the community. So, because of the negative view, public pessimists can benefit the public as they will adhere to safety protocols.
Druker notes that a sense of agency is a determining factor in whether or not an individual will be pessimistic or optimistic. Those who are optimistic feel they have more control over their lives and those who are pessimistic feel they have less control.
Again referencing the article, he explains how the sense of agency contributes to how pessimistic people will be more compliant with safety protocols. They take the measures to limit the exposure not only to themselves but for the community. A contrast to optimistic people who will likely try to limit exposure only for themselves and don’t share a concern for the community.
The author’s concluding thoughts on whether or not people should approach the coronavirus with optimism or pessimism. He warns to be careful of both as being optimistic can help individuals make it through the pandemic and pessimism might cause mental distress.
While optimism can lead to positive outcomes, it is still important to be mindful of the coronavirus. The benefits of pessimism, which he explains throughout the article, can not be ignored. So, according to the author, it’s best to have both as it will help reduce the stress that might arise due to the fear and uncertainty of the outbreak and also keeps you vigilant in reducing your chances of becoming infected or infecting others.