Coping with the psychological impact of mice plagues

1 APRIL 2021

Coping with the psychological impact of mice plagues

The current mice plague in parts of NSW and Queensland has stressed many individuals and communities, but a Charles Sturt University academic advises there are ways to cope.

  • It is important to distinguish that while anxiety may be a common and reasonable reaction to stressful events, a phobia is a disproportionate dysfunctional fear
  • Social support is very important to buffer any stressful reaction, and social connection and being aware of our self-talk helps people to cope
  • It is important to be aware of the impact of stressful events on children and to talk with them about their concerns

The current mice plague in parts of NSW and Queensland has stressed many individuals and communities, but a Charles Sturt University academic advises there are ways to cope.

“Firstly, it’s important to make the distinction between a phobia and a strong dislike,” said Associate Professor Gene Hodgins in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology in Wagga Wagga.

“A phobia is a disproportionate dysfunctional fear of mice, similar to what people experience if they are phobic about heights or enclosed spaces, so they’d be very challenged by the recent mice plague.”

He said those with phobias about mice would be just a small segment of population.

“Even if you don’t have a phobia and just get anxious, it’s important to remember that moderate levels of anxiety can be good for us, because it motivates us to do something to improve a situation,” Professor Hodgins said.

“But when stress and anxiety go on day after day, week after week, it can wear you down and become very draining and that’s a problem in itself.”

Professor Hodgins said there’s an important parallel between the current mice plague and other disasters, such as bushfires, floods, and earthquakes; the events are stressful, but there are also the ongoing impacts that can get you down.

“There are often related financial issues, for farmers, shop keepers, other workers; there are knock-on effects which can impact on sleep for example, which compounds the stress,” he said.

“Chronic stress is relentless, and psychological studies over many decades have shown that stress can make you more likely to get ill (colds, headaches, etc).”

“Reminders of the event linger, and people take different trajectories following a disaster such as a mice plague.

“Some people don’t have major negative effects, and a lot of the population will be quite resilient,” he said.

“Resilience means coping with your reactions, but not all people cope well; some have ongoing anxiety, and some have delayed reactions after the stressful event has ended.

“It happens with all types of stressful events; you can get through on adrenalin and coping mechanisms, but then sometimes later events trigger a reaction.”

Professor Hodgins said many reactions a person may have are OK, but if it persists and brings you down, seek some assistance.

“Social support is very important to buffer any stressful reaction, as we witnessed and know from other disasters – drought, bushfires, floods,” he said.

“It is social connection that helps people, provides a break, and helps us to cope.

“It’s important to connect with others, and you don’t have to just talk about mice; talk about footy or cooking or anything.

“We’re social animals, and while some people can cope with their reactions, if others find they are overly affected, then talk to someone.

Another useful coping skill is being aware of our self-talk, or what we are saying to ourselves about the mice in our head – is it unhelpful or unrealistic? And if so, can we try and think more usefully and realistically?

“The simple but important things also help us - exercise, eating well, trying your best to sleep well - because these help reduce our anxiety - the mind and the body ‘talk’ to each other.”

Professor Hodgins said it is also important to be aware of the impact of stressful events on children.

“While it depends on the child and parents, generally speaking honesty is the best policy,” he said.

“Let kids know that it’s OK for them to feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to hide too much from kids, but they don’t need all the details.

“If you notice changes in your child’s mood or behavior, sit down and talk with them about their concerns. Tell them it’s OK to feel the way they do, and they can talk with you about things any time.

“We know early intervention is important when it comes to anxiety and depression.”


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Associate Professor Gene Hodgins contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

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