Coronavirus Anxiety - Are You  Suffering From Coronaphobia?

As I write this article, new restrictions have just come into force limiting social interactions and the number of new cases of coronavirus that are being reported seems to be rising back up again here in the UK. There is a lot of anxiety and fear around the prospect of a second wave and the many impacts that may follow from this for all of us.

As well as fears around contracting the virus and the potential impacts for your health and for those around you, the uncertainty and ongoing nature of coronavirus can feed your anxiety and fear and may all add up to mean that you struggle with a new emerging phobia specific to Covid-19, called coronaphobia.

The fear and anxiety around coronavirus can relate not only to contracting Covid-19 and the health impacts (worries about falling ill, infecting others and worries around death and dying), but also extends to worry around finances, employment, education and just about every facet of our normal routines and lives. There can psychological, physiological, social and financial consequences

With the many diverse and uncertain impacts of the pandemic and coronavirus, it's no wonder that it evokes high levels of anxiety, stress and worry that can impact on your mental health and general sense of well-being.

Coronavirus Anxiety and Coronaphobia

Recently, researchers have sought to understand more about coronaphobia, its nature and impacts.

Arora et al (2020) have defined coronaphobia as 'as an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus causing COVID-19, leading to accompanied excessive concern over physiological symptoms, significant stress about personal and occupational loss, increased reassurance and safety seeking behaviors, and avoidance of public places and situations, causing marked impairment in daily life functioning.'

Naturally, I think some level of concern, awareness and vigilance around the coronavirus is very desirable, yet with this phobia there is an 'excessive' level of concern that leads to catastrophising thoughts, mis-interpretation of any physical symptoms you experience as well as experiencing hightened anxiety symptoms such as heart racing, sweating and sleep disturbance. 

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Triggers for coronaphobia can involve anything that heightens concerns over contracting it and falling ill, such as meeting people, travelling, watching or reading the news, falling ill or going out.

As Arora et al describe, physiological symptoms from constant worry can include palpitations, tremors, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, changes to your appetite and sleep disturbance (all aspects of the fight or flight response when fearful).  Thoughts around contracting coronavirus may involve being preoccupied with fearful cognitions about the threat, such as thinking you will die if you get the virus (or that your loved ones will die if they get it) and fears around financial loss or losing your job and so forth. And, of course, all of these fearful and anxious thoughts will exacerbate the physiological symptoms you suffer with.

As with other anxiety and fears, the classic behavioural response tends to be avoidance to try and prevent contracting the virus. With coronaphobia you may fear using public transport, touching surfaces or being in open or enclosed places around other people. As well as avoiding situations, you may excessively engage in safety behaviours such as washing hands and you make seek reassurance through checking in on yourself physically and seeking to confirm that you are not unwell.

In this last respect, it is similar to other health anxiety, where someone worries excessively about their health or interprets any physical feelings (e.g.a headache or stomach ache) to mean that they are seriously unwell. That worry can cause more physical feelings (as part of the fear response) that exacerbates the anxiety and fuels thoughts around illness and dying. With coronaphobia, bodily sensations such as a cough or temperature can seems like a threat that triggers coronavirus health anxiety.

Yet there are some more unique features around coronavirus that can exacerbate fear and anxiety. There is great uncertainty about the virus, where it came from, its variety and how long it may take to experience symptoms after contracting it (and whether you will experience any symptoms at all).

There is the sense of insecurity about both the virus itself and any restrictions that may be imposed to try and control it (such as lockdowns). We all have a need to adopt new behaviours, such as social distancing and wearing masks, that require us to pay attention and constantly think about what we are doing (and that keeps vigilance and threat at the forefront of our thinking and our lives). 

And certainly one of the striking features of the current pandemic has been the bombardment of information that we have all experienced. There are briefings, confllcting opinions, speculation, news stories, and posts on social media to contend with. There are those who argue that coronavirus is not that bad and who argue with those who believe that it really is that bad. There are conspiracy theories and there is fake news. That over-abundance of information, that may or may not be accurate, feeds anxiety, worry and fear and leads to panic and confusion.

 

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Coronavirus Anxiety and Mental Health 

Within all of the uncertainty and unknown, one thing is very clear; all of us have experienced a level of stress and disruption from Covid-19 that has interfered and changed how we live our lives. With coronavirus anxiety, those changes and uncertainties can lead to unpleasant physical, emotional and cognitive consequences that can impact on your mental health and well-being, as well as having profound impacts and limitations on your life in many other ways as well.

The fear of contracting coronavirus can lead to fears around dying from it and/or the consequences for your livelihood and family. The physical symptoms of fear are unpleasant and troubling and exacerbate (and get exacerbated by) thoughts around illness, death, not being able to cope and other worst case scenarios. There are also the acts of avoidance of people and places, and a need for reassurance (from others or through checking in on physical sensations).

Lee  (2020) has developed the 'Coronavirus Anxiety Scale; which is a brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety. 

The Coronavirus Anxiety Scale is composed of five somatic-based symptoms of fear and anxiety that are triggered by thoughts or information about the coronavirus. It considers symptoms of anxiety such as becoming dizzy or lightheaded,  difficulty falling or staying asleep because of thinking about the coronavirus,  feeling paralyzed or frozen when thinking about or exposed to information about the coronavirus, loss of interest in eating,  and feeing nauseous or having stomach problems when thinking about or exposed to information about the virus.

Of course, many other symptoms, thoughts and behaviours can be associated with anxiety and fear, however these specific ones, when experienced in relation to coronavirus, have demonstrated reliability and validity.

If your mental health is suffering due to coronaphobia or coronavirus anxiety, then please don't suffer in silence and do take some action that can help you discover how to feel better. Whether you start talking to someone you trust, or you visit your GP, or you come and chat with me, there are effective ways to manage and deal with anxiety and fear, even in this uncertain and evolving climate. 

There are many resources and ideas on this website, including my free audio and other hypnosis downloads, and articles and tips for dealing with anxious thoughts and feelings.  

Coronavirus is naturally close to the front of everyone's attention right now, and everyone needs to take certain actions (such as wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing), yet please do take action to look after yourself and your mental health. Know that you will cope with things, you can feel better and  there is help out there.

To your mental health and well-being,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

 

References:

Arora, A., Jha, A.K., Alat, P. and Das, S.S., 2020. Understanding Coronaphobia. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, p.102384.

Lee, S.A., 2020. Coronavirus Anxiety Scale: A brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety. Death studies44(7), pp.393-401.

Lee, S.A., 2020. Measuring coronaphobia: the psychological basis of the Coronavirus Anxiety Scale. Neurological Sciences33, pp.0-0.