Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday August 29, 2020
Fear around hugging, touching could be long-term consequence of COVID-19 pandemic, psychologists say
Janna Wiebe woke with a start recently, after dreaming her young son was surrounded by school friends who weren’t observing physical distancing.
She calls it a nightmare.
Wiebe’s family in Gretna — a southern Manitoba town about 100 kilometres from Winnipeg — have been practising the recommended distancing from others for the last month. They’ve gotten used to only being close to each other.
She thinks the public health directives and orders have gotten into her head.
“All I have wanted since this pandemic has started is for my son to be able to go back to kindergarten — to go back to school and finish his first year of school properly,” she said.
“Now I’m having a nightmare that he is going to school, and that’s obviously something deep down in my subconscious that finds that thought nerve-racking.”
Even Wiebe’s partner had a bad dream about a person being hugged by someone they didn’t know.
The Wiebes aren’t the only ones who are wary of touching others or getting too close. Psychology experts say the lingering effects of public health orders could have an impact on mental health long after those orders are lifted, and could increase phobias and obsessive reactions in those who already have anxiety problems.
That’s because fear-related learning is persistent, he says. For example, if a person has a bad experience getting stuck in an elevator, that might trigger a lifelong fear of elevators — a fear that’s maintained by avoiding them altogether.
The same could be true of the pandemic, says Bolster.
“This pandemic will end, and the threat of contracting this disease from casual social contact will diminish drastically,” he said.
“But to the extent that people avoid social contact that’s now not only benign, but necessary to feel emotionally and personally connected with others, they will likely pay a price in emotional health and social adjustment.” (CBC)