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Psychology and coronavirus: How to promote responsible behaviors, by María Jesús Álava

“From psychology we must contribute and help as much as possible in the current situation when outbreaks, sources of transmission, infections and infections are multiplying dangerously. How can we encourage responsible behavior? ” Article for EFEsalud by the psychologist María Jesús Álava Reyes in which she also addresses the consequences of confinement “that has changed our lives”.

coronavirus Álava

The psychologist María Jesús Álava Reyes in her office.

This professional is the director of the Álava-Reyes Psychology Center and presides over the foundation that bears her name aimed at promoting the study, research, training and dissemination of psychology, as well as providing assistance to people with limited financial resources.

In addition, she is president of  Apertia-Consulting , specialized in business advice, and has made the list of TOP 100 Women Leaders in Spain 2012.

She is the author of books such as “The uselessness of suffering”, “The best thing in your life is you”, “The 3 keys to happiness” or “The truth of the lie” , among others.

Psychology and coronavirus: How to encourage responsible behaviors

By María Jesús Álava Reyes

“The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down. Suddenly, we felt that we had to defend ourselves from a virus as they did in the Middle Ages, isolating and confining ourselves; trying to make the doors of our houses serve as protective walls.

From psychology, the effects of this pandemic on the population are very clear. We know that sustained psychological stress is generating pictures of anxiety and depressive states , as documented by the studies by Rodríguez Cahill, Books et al. (2020), who have carried out a review of 24 studies that address the psychological effects of confinement on mental health, finding that quarantine is associated with:

  • Increased psychological distress (negative stress)
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and low mood
  • Emotions of fear, nervousness, sadness and guilt

Effects that can be maintained over time. In China, there has been an increase in panic, anxiety and depression disorders (Qiu et al., 2020), with women, students and people with previous mental disorders being those who suffer a greater impact derived from confinement , with levels higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression (Wang et al., 2020).

Children who have been quarantined have average levels of post-traumatic stress four times higher than those who have not been quarantined. The negative effects of quarantine are significantly greater if it lasts more than 10 days.

In addition, after confinement, many people are showing avoidance behaviors : not wanting to go out into the street; experiencing great nervousness when someone coughs; avoid public spaces …

The psychology consultations have been filled with people who manifest problems of coexistence with their partners, with their children, with their family …; people who have discovered a different reality and who feel overwhelmed.

Professionals who have been on the front line, fighting the pandemic, are suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder; have many difficulties to rest; they constantly recall heartbreaking scenes they have lived through: people dying, begging them for help; families broken by pain, who could not accompany their loved ones, or be by their side to say their last goodbye.

Responsible behaviors

From psychology we must contribute and help as much as possible in the current situation in which we find ourselves, when outbreaks, sources of transmission, infections and infections multiply dangerously.

In this context, many people argue that large sectors of the population are engaging in highly irresponsible behavior; But how can we encourage responsible behavior?

Psychology teaches us that a large part of our behaviors are determined by the antecedents and the consequences of them.

If we analyze the background (the information that came to us about the virus, the contradictions about the origin and scope, how it would affect us, what we had to do, the effects of the disease in the short, medium and long term …), today we know that this information was deficient and more than helping, it confused the population; in such a way that a series of erroneous ideas were established that have largely conditioned the behavior of many people, especially those who are in the younger age groups.

coronavirus Álava
A rose seller passes a group of young people on the beach of Barceloneta after the closing of nightclubs. EFE / Quique Garcia

Another mistake was to mask reality and not show the true reality that we were living; Those images were stolen that could have impacted the sensitivity of the most insensitive person, and that could have awakened the responsibility of the most irresponsible.

Remember that ignorance of the facts favors the irresponsibility of behaviors. But again in the de-escalation there is a lot of improvisation and lack of coordination.

Psychology shows us that the consequences must affect those who commit acts of irresponsibility, and must be immediate, consistent and proportionate to the damage caused.

But if the consequences of non-compliance by young people are paid by the adults they live with and they can continue to engage in the same risky behaviors; If for establishments that do not comply with the rules, the immediate consequence is that their collection increases and that the sanctioning measures take time to arrive, if they do arrive, where is the deterrence?

If the irresponsible behaviors do not have sufficiently dissuasive consequences, those behavior patterns will remain, even increase.

On an emotional level, it is easier for us not to question what we consider positive than to face a harsher reality, which implies sacrifices and restrictive behaviors.

Deceiving ourselves will increase our weakness in the face of the virus, favor our lack of protection and make us vulnerable to this pandemic that we will only overcome through scientific rigor, responsible behavior, healthy habits and collaborative work.

Let’s not make the same mistake again! Let’s rectify immediately and show reality! If we anesthetize the population, their response will not come from consciousness, but from numbness ”.

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