Adjustment Reactions during an Influenza Pandemic


Just thinking about a pandemic may elicit an emotional reaction (if we are alive). Our reaction will be very personal, depending on our basic personality, on how we feel about other things, and on our particular circumstances. Our reaction will evolve if we think further, if we do something practical about it, or if the world changes around us. And all this is only because we’re imagining it! If or when there’s a real pandemic, many people (all people?) will go through their own “journey”.

We may try and categorize these inner and personal reactions into several “reaction situations”, which are of course rough simplifications. Let’s not call them “reaction stages” because they need not be sequential, and also because one is not necessarily “better” than the others.

We hope this page may be of help, but please realise it’s been written by fluwikie contributors who are not necessarily experts in psychology, counselling or anything of that sort. Just people talking to each other, looking at what they see, and trying to find ways forward. We recognize feelings for what they are, and at the same time we want to move forward. Patronizing or helplessness are not allowed here, thank you! :-)

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Examples from other runs of life

A man has been diagnosed with a really bad case of cancer. His wife looks for other opinions, one doctor after another, and one therapy after another. She just can’t believe it’s happening.

A young girl finds out she’s pregnant. She didn’t expect it and she doesn’t like the news. She quits school and joins a circus.

… please add a few other examples for variety …

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Several possibilities. Is “yours now” here? Add what you have felt or seen

  • Denial, disbelief
  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Useless action
  • Talk, talk, talk (to yourself or to others)
  • Blaming others (rightfully or not)
  • “I will survive”
  • Why don’t others care about this/believe this could happen yet?!
  • (Please add your own!)

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Suggestions for each situation

The same action can be taken at different situations. Help yourself to whichever suits you!

  • Work at things that improve the world in general, not just regarding a possible pandemic.
  • Work at things that are specific to a possible pandemic.
  • Enjoy life.
  • Get more information, either general or specific, either supporting what you believe or the oposite.
  • Anxiety. Your body is complaining and you are not getting enough sleep? Laugh a bit, go for a walk …
  • Go out and do some exercise.
  • Do something difficult so you must concentrate on that only.
  • Focused thinking (“divide and conquer” strategy).
  • Useful action (“one thing at a time” strategy).
  • Alerting others in “detached” mode.

Finally, there’s one piece of (self) advice, specially useful if we feel “blocked”. If someone punches you in the face, your reaction is going to be fast, and maybe not the best possible reaction. In a pandemic, and much more so before a pandemic, we can give ourselves time to think, time to explore things in sequence (say 5 minutes for each question, 25 minutes total, maybe in a family group):

  • What is going on right now?
  • What may happen in the future?
  • What good things do we have already?
  • What can we do?
  • How do we carry it out practically?

You may find that most of the times you do have 25 minutes! Or you may become good at it and run through those (or similar) questions in less time … Or you may teach others and maybe even “lead without leading”?

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Fear of What?

Fear is a diffuse feeling. When we look inside, we may find our fear is about one or more of several items.

It’s important to understand our own fear and the fear felt by others, both at the current prepping stage and later. Here’s a list of the “sources of fear”. Below is the same list with some “alternative actions”.

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Sources of fear:

  • Dieing before living the live we wanted to live.
  • Seeing someone close to us die or suffer.
  • Being right in our “prediction”.
  • Being wrong in our “prediction”.
  • Being caught without sufficient preparation … by the opposition party.
  • Being afraid of the irrational actions of other, unprepared, panicking people

Actions about our own fears and the fears of others:

Source of fear In ourselves In others
Dieing before living the live we wanted to live Accept death. Live -
Being wrong in our prediction Rephrase “prediction” as “possibility” -

Further Reading

  • Peter Sandman, Adjustment Reactions: The Teachable Moment in Crisis Communication
  • Dave Pollard, Spin, the Three P’s and the Politics of Learned Helplessness and Learned Optimism

Discuss this entry in the Forum.

Page last modified on March 15, 2006, at 09:37 PM by ricewiki