Coronavirus is pretty much all the world has been able to think and speak about for the past two months. And while, sure, we've all read the advice to stick to reliable sources for our information (like the World Health Organisation) that doesn't stop us scrolling through Twitter in the depths of the night, compulsively consuming stories that are terrifying.
There's a seemingly endless cycle of information out there about the pandemic, and not a lot of it is good news. When we have so little else going on in our lives, having been firmly advised to stay inside to stop the spread of the contagious virus, reading upsetting stories can really impact mental health. One horrible tweet about a person who's died, and your mood can plunge.
Yet, we persist. But why do we do it to ourselves?
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, insists "we don’t set out with the intention to scare ourselves." Instead, she explains that "obsessively checking and searching for information is what we call a 'safety behaviour', and it’s driven by the need for reassurance."
This 'safety behaviour' is similar to behaviour that's seen in OCD, notes the psychologist. "Feeling anxious about something and using compulsions as a way of managing that anxiety is common for a lot of anxiety disorders," Dr Touroni tells Cosmopolitan UK. But the problem is, "the 'safety behaviour' that was supposed to relieve the anxiety often ends up amplifying it."
There's another reason we seek to consume a constant stream of coronavirus content, even if it ends up making us feel worse: a drive to understand what on earth is going on.
"When we’re faced with so much uncertainty, we’re going to be drawn to anything that helps us gain some understanding of what’s happening," says Dr Touroni. "The goal is to gain mastery over something which feels scary and unpredictable, but the strategy itself can end up increasing our anxiety."
When you think about it like that, you can understand a little better why you're logging on to Twitter 65 times a day, or why you're watching publications' coronavirus live updates like a hawk. But this kind of perspective can also empower you to step away, if it's causing harm.
Our mental health is important, but it's vulnerable right now. We're not necessarily in the position to soothe ourselves with our usual comforts; seeing friends, going shopping, working out in the gym. And we've got a whole lot of time on our hands to reflect on the devastation that's currently happening worldwide.
So do yourself a favour and tear yourself away from social media if it's making you stressed; you're not going to learn anything that will change the course of the pandemic. Instead, focus on new ways to soothe yourself indoors, while adhering to the government's strict instructions to social distance.
I, for one, can highly recommend a 1,000 piece puzzle to take your mind off things.