A podcast, where you learn English grammar automatically by listening. In this episode, we’re going to learn about a new mental illness that people who have been in lock-down because of the pandemic are developing coronaphobia. We pay close attention to the correct English vocabulary and grammar as you listen and learn. The more English you listen to, the faster you can train our brain to speak and comprehend natural sounding English.
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Bombard Mental Native Commute Anxiety Corona Risk Germs Catastrophe Social
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So there’s something which I’ve noticed is becoming a feature in my psychotherapy practice. I deal with all kinds of psychological problems that people bring – and anxiety, that’s ANXIETY is certainly one of them. ‘Anxiety’ is the noun, and ‘anxious’, ANXIOUS is the adjective. If you have ‘anxiety’, it means that you worry, you are fearful, you think fear-provoking thoughts quite a lot of the time.
Anxious thoughts go round and round in your head. So this is something for which people often seek help. But there’s a new type of anxiety that we’re seeing – and I hadn’t thought about a name for it – until recently. And the name, which is new – a new word - it’s an obvious one when you think about it. Have you heard of ‘coronaphobia’? So that’s ‘corona’, CORONA – like the virus and ‘phobia’, PHOBIA.
So ‘coronaphobia’. As you may already know – and it may be the same in your language too, any word with ‘phobia’, PHOBIA on the end means ‘fear of’. So ‘Dendrophobia’ is the fear of trees – or ‘agoraphobia’ is fear of going out or outside – literally from the Greek ‘fear of the market place’. ‘Claustrophobia’ is another fear – the fear of small spaces or of being ‘shut in’. So it’s not difficult to work out this new word ‘coronaphobia’ – it’s ‘fear of the corona virus’.
Now of course, we’ve all been in a global pandemic – so some amount of fear is normal. I think at the start of it, we were all fearful – we didn’t really understand what we were facing. And I’m aware as I’m speaking about this, that the level of fear which you might hold about the virus, about the pandemic is probably directly related to your situation.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a country where most people have been vaccinated, like in the UK, then probably your fear is less. If you live in a country where this isn’t the case and case numbers are high – then you may be understandably, justifiably more fearful. And your level of understandable fear also relates to your individual risk factors. If you’re older, then being more cautious, more sensible – that makes sense because you are at greater risk – that’s RISK. There’s a greater chance of you getting ill.
But when we talk about phobias, we’re generally talking of excessive fear, too much fear – out of proportion fear. So my example of ‘dendrophobia’, the fear of trees – well, usually there’s very little to fear from trees. I guess they could fall on you in a strong wind, but I’d say that any amount of ‘dendrophobia’ is abnormal. It’s not justified – something’s wrong. You might have something called ‘germophobia’ – that’s the fear of germs.
So obviously ‘germs’, GERMS – that means bacteria or viruses that could make you ill – they are worth fearing to an extent. It’s good to wash your hands after using the bathroom or before you eat – or at the moment, when you’ve used public transport. But someone with ‘germophobia’ might wash their hands a hundred of times a day – to the point where their hands are sore. That’s too much, that’s excessive – it’s more than is needed. And that amount of fear is a problem – hence it attracting the label of ‘a phobia’. Another way we might describe this in English – the fear is ‘over the top’ or OTT.
So when I talk about this new word ‘coronaphobia’, I’m meaning an excessive fear around the virus. It means fear that’s ‘persistent, unrealistic, excessive’. Fear beyond the useful caution which makes us take sensible precautions. I wouldn’t say that life has returned exactly to normal in the UK, but it’s approaching normal. I’m aware as I’m saying this that winter is coming and we’re not sure what’s going to happen.
There could be a new variant of the virus, which means we could be locked down again – but let’s hope not. If things continue as they are, it feels as though we’ll gradually return to normal. So sensible precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands – these actions just help us to get closer to normal life, normal living.
But there are people who are still living in lockdown, who still aren’t going out or living any kind of life. They still haven’t resumed their normal activities, because they’re too frightened. And I’m not talking here about people who have a health condition which makes them vulnerable. Or people who have a health condition which means that their immune system hasn’t necessarily responded in the desired way to the vaccine.
If this is you, then caution is sensible. The level of fear is appropriate. But some of the people I’m meeting, who are still stuck at home, unable to go out – well, they’re in good health, they have no underlying health problems. They’re in their 20s and their 30s, They’re not really the people who are under threat. So their fear is excessive, it’s too much – it’s much greater than the level of risk indicates.
So the disruption to these people’s lives continues, while most other people are getting back to normal. If you have coronophobia, any invitation to do something with friends, go out to a restaurant, see your family – all these kinds of events are accompanied by excessive fear.
People with coronaphobia try to find excuses to not go to social events, or if they absolutely have to go, they’ll be really fearful of hugging friends or relatives, fearful of eating, in case they ingest germs and there is often a general fear of groups of people or of places where there are a lot of crowds. It seems also to be accompanied by an extension of what’s called ‘social phobia’.
‘Social phobia’, that’s SOCIAL - that means when people are nervous around other people when they go out – especially those they don’t know. People with social phobia worry excessively about what other people think of them. So for some people the effect of the pandemic and the lockdown has also meant a loss of confidence and perhaps greater social phobia, certainly social anxiety.
Whereas they used to go out, to the supermarket, to the pub, to work, on public transport without really thinking too much about it, these experiences now bring about greater anxiety. It’s almost as though some people have got ‘out of practice’ at going out, at dealing with crowds or at dealing with situations where they’re required to speak to people they don’t know. And this seems for some people to be an added extra alongside the ‘germophobia’ that the pandemic seems to have instilled in some people.
So of course, it’s not just me who’s noticed this phenomenon. This issue has the attention of the NIH, the National Institute of Health in the US and other public health related organisations. An article published by Alisha Arora and Amrit Kumar called ‘Understanding Coronaphobia’ discusses the factors which bring about this phenomenon – both in the wider world and in the people who suffer it.
The wider world context is seen as relevant because the pandemic is an ‘unforeseen reality’ – meaning it’s like something from a disaster movie – it still feels a bit ‘unreal’. It would have been hard to imagine all of this a couple of years ago. It also means continuing uncertainty. The future is looking better, but we still can’t be sure what will happen next. And amongst scientists, there’s still uncertainty even as to the origin of the virus, its nature – and there are stories of all kinds of strange and unexplained reactions to it. So that gives plenty to worry about.
There’s been loss of faith in public health systems – even ones which normally function well have been caught out, have made mistakes. Various presidents, prime ministers catching COVID-19 and even some dying from the virus – that frightens people. And the task of trying to understand and make sense of all the information that comes at us from lots of sources – and the vast array of opinions.
The term ‘infodemic’ has been coined – it’s like ‘a pandemic of information’, if you like! Hard to make sense of. And of course, there’s been a lot of misinformation on social media – inaccurate and untrue statements being made. There’s a loss of trust in what we would normally see as trusted sources of information. And the pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another. It’s been in my house – my daughter had a positive PCR test back in July and we all had to isolate, even though no one else got ill.
So we’ve all been affected to some degree, if only through inconvenience or the need to cancel our plans. Researchers also cite reasons which reside more in people themselves, who suffer coronaphobia – the tendency to catastrophize, for example. If you suffer from anxiety anyway, then you’re much more likely to ‘catastrophize’. That verb comes from the noun ‘catastrophe’, CATASTROPHE. It means ‘a disaster, a really bad event’. And if you ‘catastrophize’, it means you imagine the worst.
You make a very, very negative interpretation of events or possibilities. So if you’ve got anxiety anyway, you’re more likely to have coronaphobia. Clearly, if you’ve been personally affected by the virus, if you’ve lost a loved one, or if there’ve been a lot of deaths in your area, it can be hard to move beyond it. It can be hard to arrive at a balanced viewpoint.
A photograph of a man with a thoughtful and worried face. An English grammar podcast for English Learners and ESL Students.
Another factor which seems to have affected people? During the lockdown, there was too much time to think and reflect. Remember when I’ve talked in previous podcasts about ‘rumination’, negative reflective thinking? Well, I guess in a lockdown, there’s been plenty of time for all of that. And we can all become slight hypochondriacs as well.
A hypochondriac is someone who is continually convinced they’re ill. So you say to yourself, ‘Hmm, is my throat a bit sore? Have I got a cough? Is my temperature a bit high?’. We’re always on the alert to the possibility that we’re getting ill, even if we’re not.
So people in my position – well, we’re having to think about how do we work with coronaphobia? What strategies do we use in order to help people? What will work best? But that’s OK. In my job, you have to react, think of new ways of working, new ways of thinking. That’s why we like it. But it’s useful to keep an eye on the wider research as well. If you’re interested, I’ve included some links in the transcript for you to read up more on this topic.
So there you are – a free English grammar lesson in a podcast! Hope that’s interesting.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.