Therapist: Numbers can make us numb to pandemic

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Posted at 6:08 AM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 07:21:15-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — News coverage of the coronavirus pandemic often includes numbers about how many cases health officials have reported or records on how many people died in a single day from COVID-19.

Mental health therapists say those numbers can make us numb to the problem at hand.

Burt Rogersexplained most of the numbers are too big for our minds to process.

He said, in some cases, people focus too much on the numbers, which limits their capacity to make correct, well-thought-out decisions about wearing a face mask, social distancing and the other pillars of infection control.

“The way I explain it to my clients is I don’t know of anybody who can think clearly when they’re running from a lion,” Rogers said. “You’re not thinking about your taxes or my checkbook needs to be balanced, you’re just thinking of getting away from that lion. So the brain function changes when you’re under threat.”

Dr. Erica Thompson expanded on the idea saying people hear numbers over and over so they begin to feel normal. People accept the large numbers they hear on the news as part of life instead of using them as reminders to wear a mask or avoid crowds.

“When you’re used to something happening, then you’re like, ‘Ok, I’m numb to it now and I don’t want to address it,’ because the numbness feels good and we don’t want to shake up what already feels good for us,” Thompson explained.

The therapist said it is important to address the numbness because the trauma of the coronavirus can affect people later on if it goes unaddressed.

Rogers and Thompson helped 41 Action News create a Rebound Rundown to help people manage the stress of overwhelming numbers:

  • Prepare to face the virus by having a face mask and hand sanitizer.
  • Educate yourself at your own pace on the risks of the virus.
  • Limit how much information you consume.
  • Break big problems into smaller, manageable tasks.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or licensed therapist.

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