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Gerardo Castillo, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Social fear of Covid-19 infection

Fri, 16 Oct 2020 10:59:00 +0000 Published in El Confidencial Digital

Hans Kluge, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Europe, says Covid-19 continues to have a major psychological impact on many people, due to isolation, physical distancing and the closure of schools and places of work. These are challenges that affect us, and it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness at these times.

There is a necessary fear or "friendly fear" that puts us on guard against imminent danger in order to react in time. It is a defense mechanism and a survival tool . There is also an unnecessary fear or "enemy fear"; it is an obsessive fixation that causes behavioral disorders. The exaggerated fear of getting sick is currently observed in people who do not psychologically fit in with the new outbreaks of the coronavirus. It is a social fear of contagion not attributable to hypochondria. People who never worried about getting sick now have symptoms of nosophobia.

Nosophobia is a recurrent and persistent fear of contracting a specific disease. This fear ends up conditioning all dimensions of the person, even in those moments where there is no risk subject . The fear of Covid-19 disease can be worse than the disease itself.

People hardly protest against the politicization of the disease, but, on the other hand, they are sample irascible with people who have the wrong mask on. We thus run the risk of seeing our fellow human beings not as people, but as mobile bombs that can kill us at any moment. This makes it plausible that "man is a wolf to man", a phrase attributed to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. It refers to the horrors of what mankind is capable of doing to itself. Today's suspicions of others are contributing to an increasingly dehumanized society.

Living in this state of mind is unhealthy and places us in a dilemma: either we learn to control our fear, or it will control our life. Fear is inevitable, but it must be seen as an incentive: a positive stimulus to overcome it with opposing emotions and values.

We are comforted and encouraged that this pandemic is bringing out not only the worst, but also the best in human beings. In extreme situations, caring people tend to emerge and become unexpected heroes. This is the thesis of Fernando Benzo's recent book "Heroes inesperados: la otra cara del 11-M." 

On March 11, 2004, hundreds of people in Madrid spontaneously helped the passengers of a train burning due to several explosions caused by a terrorist cell to get out of the flames. All of them behaved like true heroes, as they risked their lives for people they did not even know.

Similarly, during the first confinement due to the pandemic, a multitude of volunteers emerged to help people who, because of their age, dependence or loneliness, could not fend for themselves. They did their shopping for them, brought them medicines, threw their garbage in the containers, etc. These volunteers were in great danger of becoming infected; they were also afraid, but they overcame this fear by forgetting about themselves and sacrificing themselves for others. To cope with the fear of contagion, it is helpful to change negative thoughts to positive ones. This is closely related to metanoia.

Metanoia is a word which, in its Greek origin, metanoien, means change of mind or new way of thinking. In Carl Gustav Jung's analytical psychology, it is a process of reformation of the psyche oriented towards self-healing. It is the status of one who on a journey has had to turn from the path he was on and take another direction. The word metanoia is also used in Christian theology associating its meaning with repentance.

Metanoia invites us to go beyond our instincts to a broader mindset that rises above the natural tendency to self-interest, promoting values such as enabling us to do something we could not do before; expanding our capacity to create; recreating ourselves.

Methanoia made it possible for Abraham Lincoln, a poor lumberjack lost in a cabin in a forest of the new frontier, to become president of the United States. He could not go to school. He was an autodidact driven by self-improvement. He studied law at degree program with borrowed books and without ceasing to work in different trades. This self-realization with effort was a healing of his elementary life full of frustrations.