Pandemic messaging advice for health promotion practitioners
Helping people move beyond fear during the coronavirus pandemic is not just an act of compassion, it’s necessary for effective health promotion.
A complex range of values and motivations cause people’s behaviour and VicHealth research shows that tapping into more positive values brings about more positive results.
Fear is not the only response
While fear is a natural response to crisis, it’s not the only one.
Decades of research from around the world shows that when people are fearful, they become more conservative. They seek comfort in what they know and become more resistant to change.
Since much of health promotion involves helping people do things differently, fear is a serious roadblock to our work.
What’s more, when people are scared, they become more self-centred and competitive – prioritising their needs above those of others to a greater degree than normal. The recent hoarding of supermarket basics is a stark reminder of this.
So, what does this mean for health promotion?
For one, we need to avoid increasing people’s fear levels. For example, research suggests that people are drinking more in isolation but, while it may seem counter-intuitive, now is not the time for a campaign on alcohol’s link to cancer. Even though this is an important link, now isn’t the time to be increasing people’s anxiety around health concerns.
Instead, encouraging people to adopt a more compassionate and self-directed frame of mind is more likely to get the results we’re looking for.
Move people from fear to love
Research in social psychology shows that altruistic concern and open-mindedness are the antidotes to fear.
Reminding people of the importance they attach to creativity, curiosity and freedom reduces their feelings of insecurity. So too does encouraging people to reflect on the needs of others.
For example, if you want people to eat more vegetables and avoid sugar, reminding them of the need to stay healthy for the sake of their family can be a much more powerful motivator than appealing to self-interest.
It shifts people’s motivations from fear to love.
Reframe health promotion messages
So how does your organisation reframe health promotion messages to move people from fear to love?
VicHealth research shows that making people feel guilty for individual behaviour and using words like banning and restricting causes usually responsive people to ignore health promotion messages.
On the other hand, messages that appeal to people’s intrinsic values of social justice, equality and honesty motivate people to change their behaviour for the better.
And, these findings are as relevant today as they were in the pre-coronavirus world of 2019.