Coronaphobia: A New Epidemic of Isolation
Yes, that’s right. Coronaphobia is a real word. Researchers coined this term in December 2020. It’s the fear of Covid infection, sometimes to the point of crippling a person, interfering with their lives. I have a counseling/psychotherapy client right now who is obsessed with dying from Covid. She is perfectly healthy, without any risk factors, and has not lost anyone close to her in the pandemic. In other words, there is no obvious cause for her fear. She’s terrified of being physically close to anyone. Even though she lives locally, and can easily drive to her appointments, she has insisted on Zoom sessions. I finally convinced her to at least face her fears in the room with me, so she obliged, sitting next to an open window, bundled up against the cold air.
Coronaphobia, sadly, has led to the escalation of Social Phobia. People are afraid to gather in groups other than their family or close friends (i.e., their “safety pod”). The initial Covid pandemic set the tone. Social distancing was the mandate. But now it has become a habit, a way of life, a normalizing of isolation. In one pandemic swoop, the world is now changed. Isolation is now justified.
In our modern society over the years, there has been more and more isolation. Loneliness has been on the rise. Even just the advent of smartphones and texting has encouraged this isolation. Ten years ago, we could never have imagined two close friends sitting in the same room communicating with each other via text messages. Now this is commonplace, especially among the younger generation.
For Joyce and me, this new epidemic of isolation has hit close to home. Now, before people come to a workshop or retreat, they have to move through their Coronaphobia and their enhanced Social Phobia, their fear of being in the same room with strangers. Even with precautions, like testing and mask-wearing, people still hesitate to come to a retreat. Our retreats are the favorite part of our work. For almost fifty years, we have watched a group of strangers become best friends, often in just one weekend. We have nurtured the immense power of healing created in a focused group of people. Our retreats have taken a big hit. They are clearly smaller since the pandemic. We are managing because of our counseling practice. People are willing to risk getting help as individuals or couples, just not in a group.
I also love music and leading singing and chanting. During our retreats, most people have loved circle dances, moving around a circle, singing sacred phrases with each person you meet. The process has facilitated heart-opening. Singing/chanting is a powerful way to connect with your heart and other hearts, to have a welcome break from thinking. Now, however, many are reluctant to participate in these circle dances because of the fear of spreading germs. And singing through a mask is just not the same experience.
Even my local monthly chanting group in Santa Cruz has fewer participants. It’s still wonderful with a small group, but once again, many people are too afraid to be part of any group. Singing is now too often equated with virus-spreading. But then the enormous benefits of group singing and chanting, the spiritual atmosphere and the powerful healing energy, are too easily ignored.
Please remember that we are all social beings. We need each other. Giving and receiving love are essential for our very happiness and well-being. Be mindful of the spread of illness, but distinguish this from the epidemic of fear and isolation. Take necessary precautions, but don’t be ruled by fear. Remember the phrase, “When two or more are gathered in my name, there I am.” Social visits and parties are great, but spiritual gatherings are vital. Please don’t miss out on the spiritual healing power generated by a focused group. It’s the best protection against isolation and, yes, strengthening of your immune system.