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How much fear over Covid is justified? – A personal view


Terry Martin has been considering the subject of fear:


Fear (along with other emotions such as anger and grief) is widely considered a basic emotion; one which human beings share with higher primates. However, with our capacity for rational thought, we uniquely can evaluate our emotional responses and subsequent behaviour. As a consequence of recent lockdowns, in response to the perceived threat of Covid and the government’s relentless scaremongering, a significant proportion of the population remains paralysed by fear. (1) This ‘panic-demic’ may well prove more costly than the original pandemic.


The government has relied heavily on the Behavioural Insights Team (2), also known unofficially as the ‘Nudge Unit’, that generates and applies behavioural insights to inform policy and improve public services, following nudge theory. The strategy deployed has been unrelentingly cynical and dismissive of the wider needs of the population.


Older people have been particularly susceptible to this shameless and morally indefensible scaremongering, and those concerned with their well-being face an uphill task to encourage them to re-engage with everyday life.


However, the psychological theories, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), underpinning nudge theory, can also be deployed in rehabilitation. CBT techniques help people challenge their patterns and beliefs and replace errors in thinking, known as cognitive distortions, such as ‘overgeneralizing, magnifying negatives, minimizing positives and catastrophizing’, with ‘more realistic and effective thoughts, thus decreasing emotional distress and self-defeating behavior.’ (3)


There is no consensus on the precise level of threat posed by Covid, so what constitutes a rational belief and response is open to dispute. The present writer, whilst acknowledging the reality of Covid and its threat to the vulnerable and elderly, believes that the indiscriminate lockdown has been catastrophic.


Persuading those who are still locked down by personal choice, that they have misjudged the actual risks of resuming normal life will be no easy task. Proceeding in small steps is essential and encouragement when modest goals are achieved is also important.


From a Christian perspective, it is interesting to note that the word fear occurs 500 times in the Bible; 400 times in the Old Testament and 100 in the New Testament. On 44 occasions it is in the combination ‘fear not’.


The antidote to fear is clearly proclaimed by John in the fourth chapter of his Gospel:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – John 4:18



References

1. Laura Dodsworth, A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic (Pinter & Martin, 2021).


2. ‘Behavioural Insights Team’, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioural_Insights_Team.


3. ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy.



Terry Martin, is a trustee of Caraway, Southampton - ‘Celebrating the richness and wisdom of old age, Caraway aims to promote and resource the spiritual well-being of those in their older years’ – October 2021.



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