Updated: Jun 20
Over the past year, the human race has been in a state of collective fear.
As Eckhart Tolle explains, fear arises when we sense that we may lose something. The global pandemic has threatened to strip us of our health, loved ones, livelihood, life purpose, status, sense of security and safety, and much more.
The individual human response to stress is known as ‘fight or flight.’ When we are faced with immediate threat, we experience a rise in adrenaline and cortisol which enables us to physically respond.
What happens then, when the stressor is global, and we are responding with fear as a collective?
This is the phenomenon of Social Contagion.
Social Contagion was first described by Herbert Blumer, a twentieth century American Sociologist.
It is defined by studies at Stanford University as ‘the spread of affect or behaviour from one crowd participant to another.’
Aside from our behaviour as individuals, it is natural for societies to operate as a whole and for each of us to interact in ways that benefit the wider community. In our family and job roles, we each play a small part that makes up a whole, larger system. This also applies in extended families. Agreements are made, consciously or unconsciously as to what part each will play to benefit everyone.
We can see that the purpose of collective fear may be an evolutionary phenomenon that has developed to preserve our safety. In a large crowd, where only the people at the front can see a threat, the fear response passes from one person to the next until the whole group is on high alert and poised to act. Only a select few people, have come face-to-face with the threat, but remember that an imagined threat invokes the same physiological response as an experienced one. We do not need to see it to respond.
During the pandemic, fear has spread throughout the world faster than Covid 19 itself. Not only fear of contracting and passing on the virus and the existence of ever emerging new variants, but that of socioeconomic disaster, and personal loss. There is also, now widespread fear about the use of certain vaccines. The speed of the spread and nature of the fear has been greatly influenced by the media. Not only how much time we spend watching the news and looking at social media, but the nature of its contents. What we read will ultimately affect how we think. This does not constitute coming face-to-face with the threat, but it allows us to imagine every possible facet of it.
This in turn, negatively affects our body chemistry and leads to chronic levels of stress.
There has never been a more important time to look after our own mental health.
How can we recognise when we have been drawn into a situation of Social Contagion?
It is actually highly unlikely that we will avoid it. There is undeniably a very real threat, but unless we have had the virus or know or worked with someone who has, our only source of information will be the media. It is very important that we remain informed as the situation develops, but how do we do this without being drawn into stories that initiate panic? Remember that panic sells papers! We can carefully select our sources, but we are still experiencing the threat second hand.
There are many more articles on our site that will help you to address your various pandemic needs. Feel free to explore it.
Understand that we can only address issues of stress when we become conscious of them.
We must get into the habit of stepping into the shoes of our Observer Self.
We must bear witness to what is happening within us, without emotion or judgement. Only then can we take action and make our responses conscious rather than automatic.
‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ from Sheldon Press takes you on a journey of self-discovery; it shares over 60 tools and techniques, including meditations with purpose, visualisation exercises and practical tools to help improve your mental wellbeing, reduce anxiety and allow you to take control of your life