Psychologists worry public is becoming desensitized to COVID-19 news

As the daily number of coronavirus cases changes over the course of the pandemic, psychologists say the public becomes desensitized and the big numbers can lose impact over time.

“It’s horrendous the number of people that are getting sick and dying and the fact what we’re just going on about our business compared to what we were thinking in March or April, is very different. It speaks to the fact that we have become desensitized to the enormous numbers that we’re seeing,” said Dr. Wendy Rice of Rice Psychology in Tampa.

Dr. Rice said repeated exposure to something over time will become a person’s new sense of normal: an approach with which psychologists are familiar.

“So if you have to withstand something terrible, or if your fear of spiders doesn’t let you leave your house, we gradually expose you to this very, very scary thing until it loses some of its scariness,” said Rice about the psychological effect of a treatment approach.

COVID-19 is an invisible threat and people are now living with a heightened awareness of risk. Dr. Rice said people can work through it by setting limits for time spent on the topic, writing down what you’re thankful for in a journal, practicing mindfulness or even meditating.

“There’s a balance because, on the one hand, we don’t want to be sidelined by the numbers and disabled by the horror of the numbers because we need to keep forging ahead and functioning. On the other hand, we need to take the numbers seriously and do what is within our control to help bring them down,” said Rice.

At the end of the day, psychologists say it’s important to remember there are people behind the numbers.