WHY WE’RE TURNING TO PANDEMIC-THEMED ENTERTAINMENT DURING THE GLOBAL CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

As As many people may be turning to TV and films to keep themselves entertained during the ongoing lockdown, the Neo Online team decided to analyse how the search trends for popular outbreak, lockdown, and pandemic-based movies and TV shows have changed over the last few months, as well as collaborating with multiple experts to gain additional insight into why this might be. Read on to find out more…

Analysing Google Search Trends

Looking at Google Search Trends over recent months (based on the ‘last 90 days’, between 6 Jan – 6 April 2020), 15 popular movies in the genre included:

  1. Contagion (2011) “Contagion film” – searches peaked on 26 March 2020
  2. UK lockdown begins (23 March)
  3. Pandemic (2020) / “Pandemic Netflix” – searches peaked on 22 March 2020
  4. Dawn of the Dead (2004) / “Dawn of the Dead film” – searches peaked on 22 March 2020
  5. Generic ‘quarantine film’ search or Quarantine (2008) / “Quarantine film” – searches peaked on 22 March 2020
  6. Doomsday (2008) / “Doomsday film” – searches peaked on 22 March 2020
  7. Generic ‘outbreak film’ search or Outbreak (1995) / “Outbreak film” – searches peaked on 21 March 2020
  8. Generic ‘flu film’ search or Flu (2013) / “Flu film” – searches peaked on 21 March 2020
  9. I Am Legend (2007) / “I Am Legend film” – searches peaked on 21 March 2020
  10. Business support announced (17 March)
  11. Generic ‘virus film’ search or Virus (2019) / “Virus film” – searches peaked on 15 March 2020
  12. A Quiet Place (2018) / “A Quiet Place film” – searches peaked on 15 March 2020
  13. Daily press briefings begin (15 March)
  14. Children of Men (2006) / “Children of Men film” – searches peaked on 14 March 2020
  15. Outbreak declared a pandemic by WHO (11 March)
  16. 28 Days Later (2002) / “28 Days Later film” – searches peaked on in 8 March 2020
  17. 28 Weeks Later (2007) / “28 Weeks Later film” – searches peaked on 7 March 2020
  18. World War Z (2013) / “World War Z film” – searches peaked on 1 March 2020
  19. First British death (28 February)
  20. WHO says planet must prepare for a coronavirus pandemic (24 February)
  21. Carriers (2009) / “Carriers film” – searches peaked on 23 February 2020
  22. Italy measures start to be put in place (22 February)
  23. Bats identified as potential source of coronavirus (3 February)
  24. First people in England test positive for coronavirus (31 January)
  25. Wuhan lockdown extended across China (24 January)
  26. Health Secretary comments on NHS capacity if coronavirus emerges in the UK (23 January)
  27. Wuhan goes into travel lockdown (22 January)

As you can see from the above, our analysis found that many people are watching this genre during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with many of the search peaks featuring since the daily Government briefings began on the 15th March 2020.

Consulting with Psychology Experts

To gather more insight into the topic, we spoke to Psychologist Jason O’Callaghan and Senior Therapist Sally Baker, who commented on why we might be turning to this genre during coronavirus outbreak from a psychological point of view.

A common insight included the notion of “exposure therapy”, which involves exposing the patient to the anxiety source (or its context) without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress, and this may be why many are turning to fictional films of somewhat similar situations.

Jason O’Callaghan, a psychologist specializing in the unconscious mind, commented:

“The theory behind binge watching disaster movies at this time during the current crisis is something we psychologists called “exposure therapy”. It’s a bit like trying to get over a fear of lifts by going up and down on one all day. When we are afraid, our mind goes into the fight or flight response, and when this happens are bodies experience anxiety.

“Watching these movies is a way of dealing with the reality of the situation from the safety of their own home. People can sometimes feel they are getting a better understanding of the current Covid-19 lockdown by watching these types of virus movies.

“My view is if it helps them understand the virus and current lockdown situation better, then that’s fine. However, if it leads to more anxiety then they are better off sticking on a comedy”.

Senior Therapist Sally Baker added:

“The niche popularity of pandemic disaster movies and TV shows during Covid-19 lockdown is a predictable psychological response for some people to feelings of stress and overwhelm during this unique time.

“While we are living through this unprecedented time (when every news broadcast brings us the latest worrying updates people are subconsciously looking for ways to dispel with their sense of powerlessness), what better way to feel more in control than to choose to watch a fictitious pandemic virus movie with a storyline that provides a technicolour outlet for the uncomfortable emotions that many people are finding difficulty in expressing.

“Watching a pandemic drama on the screen allows the viewer an opportunity to experience a cathartic outlet for their pent-up emotions. It allows them to vicariously experience the natural fear responses in a safe environment. For instance, their heart rate may slightly increase; their pupils may dilate; their skin may flush. All of these are signs of elevated emotions created by the brain’s hard-wired response of fight, flight and freeze to a perceived threat.

“Pandemic themed fiction is the perfect foil for some people to cope with the present uncertainty. It can offer a distracting narrative with a beginning, middle and hopefully the happy ending we are all holding out for in our real lives”.

How to Overcome COVID-19 Anxiety

We also consulted with Strategic Coach Melissa Howard and Senior Yoga Teacher Aleksandra Sasha Horwood, who both gave their tips on how people might be able to overcome anxiety during this time.

Melissa Howard, Strategic Coach at E-volve Global explained:

“Taking a limited view of the events unfolding around you can elicit a strong reaction and trigger your fight/flight response. You can’t control all events that happen, but you can control your response to them… When you find yourself worrying, focus on the things that you can control. Strive to establish a mindset that differentiates fact from fear. It’s okay to have concerns that this crisis may impact the way you live over the next few months, the economy and your business, but it’s detrimental to live through this period without challenging your worst fears. When you put your energy into the things you can control, you’ll be much more effective in seeing opportunities when they arise.

“During times of crisis, it’s easy to be distracted by fear and neglect self-care. You are probably tougher on yourself than you are on anyone else. Instead of taking yourself for granted, love yourself the way you love others you care about. The reality is that during periods of uncertainty, it becomes even more critical to balance your anxiety with finding ways to relax by embracing your happiness habits. Seek out familiar things that have not changed in your life as a way to anchor you in during turbulent times. Learn to accept support from others and not go it alone”.

Aleksandra Sasha Horwood, Senior Yoga Teacher at Happy Stance Yoga suggested:

“When we feel helpless and confused, or when we encounter a situation where fear is so great, we tend to seek out familiar, similar stories, which resemble our current state of mind. However, anxiety gives birth to more anxiety… It is like a trance. Common sense and conscious decision-making disappear, and we make choices which will only aggravate our current state of mind. On the other hand, if we have previously practised our inner muscles of discernment, true self-care and deep sympathetic connection with others, we will be less trapped in a loop of suffering.

“It seems that most of us are experiencing a great degree of stress at the moment, so our capacities to cope and process are overwhelmed. Our reactions to this, such as overeating, over-worrying or indulging in disaster scenarios via our home screens, are impacting us deeply, leaving us maybe even embarrassed for not being able to act less impacted by the pandemic. That shame and guilt again block us from using healthier resources in us and around us. Yoga and meditation are just some of the methods where we can utilise our sense of inner presence in a safe environment, and where we can make real change, disassociated from being in a constant state of danger”.

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