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Amid COVID-19, psychologists note stress can lead to illness: ‘Fear spreads faster than the virus’

Data pix.
Jeanette Kowalik

Jeanette Kowalik

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Pierce County Public Health Department announced Monday, March 9 that a second person tested positive for COVID-19 — coronavirus. The first case involved a Dane County resident who returned from China and was placed under quarantine at the end of January. That case was announced Feb. 5. Psychologists said feeling anxious about coronavirus is natural, and while it's important to stay informed and be prepared, it's also important to think logically and take a breath.

Stocks took their worst one-day beating on Wall Street since the global financial crisis of 2008 as a collapse in oil prices Monday combined with mounting alarm over what the coronavirus could do to the world economy. This, as the coronavirus death toll in the United States hit 26.

Tammy LaVora

Tammy LaVora

Experts noted all the bad news can be a lot to take in.

"We need to be vigilant against fear and anxiety against this virus," said Jeanette Kowalik, Milwaukee health commissioner.

Psychologists said Mike and Tammy LaVora's outlook is one to follow.

"Just take it one day at a time," said Tammy LaVora. "Life is just too busy with so many other things, you know? Other friends having health issues, busy at work, just busy life."

"I live day-to-day," said Mike LaVora. "It doesn't bother me."

Lauren Beverung

Lauren Beverung

"The fear spreads faster than the virus," said Lauren Beverung, assistant psychology professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering. "The disease is new. The fear is not. That's a very biological, evolutionary behavior, is to be cautious. We pay attention more naturally to things that we are unfamiliar with because historically,  that's kept us alive."

Mike LaVora

Mike LaVora

Beverung said it's important to heed health officials' warnings, but make sure you're being provided information from verified, trusted new sources and government websites, not a poorly-sourced post passed around on Facebook.

"When we don't know, that's OK that we don't know," said Beverung. "Overreacting or reacting too quickly, that can create more anxiety in families as you talk to people."

"I wash hands all the time, and if you're going to get sick, you're going to get sick," said Mike LaVora. "That's how I look at it. I'm not going to stop my life."

Beverung said it's OK to be reactionary and prepared, but it's important to be aware that stress can make you more susceptible to falling ill, coronavirus or otherwise.

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