Coronavirus: Am I in a movie?

Diana Armstrong, psychologist, offers Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT therapy) with Roodlane Medical/HCA in Glasgow. After a first career in journalism she has worked in mental health within the NHS, secondary education, employee assistance and private practice for almost 20 years.

Comparing the pandemic to a movie

Have you had this thought? Is this real? Is this really happening? Does this feel like a movie to you?

 Well, you are not alone. Most of us are shielded away in our homes. We watch the world change on the television screen. We see news reports that talk about death tolls, panic buying and police intervention, images of hospitals and empty streets - images that look awfully similar to movies.

The trouble is that our brain is built to make sense of the word we see around us, and it does not discriminate whether these images come from a screen or our own living room.  

How does this make us feel?

As a result:

  • our brains make us believe that the next step in this crisis will be the same as in the movies. We subconsciously expect looting, people turning against each other, starvation, even the end of the human race
  • the fight or flight response is triggered to protect us from potential physical harm, making us even more alert of threats, causing us to be irritable with others, disrupting our sleep, blocking our ability to think rationally
  • we try to arm ourselves with knowledge, watch the news, read articles on social media. This, of course, triggers the movie/panic response and we enter a vicious cycle.

What can I do about this?

It’s important to bring yourself back into the reality around you. Ground yourself in the present by going through each of your senses one by one.

Think about the following:

  • What can you smell?
  • Can you see five different colours?
  • Name them out loud if you can.
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • What does your sleeve smell like?
  • What does the chair/sofa etc feel like when you touch it?

What next...

Remind yourself that we are not in a Hollywood movie. Movie scripts have to follow a certain pattern:

  • there has to be a mystery to solve. If it looks like a natural disaster, our hero will uncover that it was probably a conspiracy. In real life, a virus has natural causes. This makes for a boring script. We prefer to believe in conspiracy theories because then we can defeat the bad guy, and this will never happen again. In real life, a virus outbreak is arbitrary. This frightens us
  • there has to be conflict. A plotline is developed when a character wants something and overcomes obstacles. A common one is the scientist-tells-government-about-dangers-but-no-one-believes-them-scenario. In real life, there is a high level of collaboration between scientists and governments
  • the stakes have to be high or the movie won’t sell. Looting and violence are common in movies. This is the result of a complete breakdown in society, with most people dying of the virus and food shortages, absence of governments etc resulting in riots. There is enough food and, like them or not, we do have governments in place. Even toilet paper is making a comeback on our shelves.

How to take back control

Finally, choose one thing you can control and do it. Take a shower, eat something, call a friend and wash your hands. If that doesn’t work, go with Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was. "Is there any tea on this spaceship?"

Online psychology consultations

During this difficult time, we are here to support you via online consultations. You can book a teleconsultation via the My HCA GP mobile app (Apple / Android) or call: 0345 437 0691 (option 4).
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