Topic 5 Fears

5.1. Definition and symptoms

  • Fear is the emotion and consequent reaction to imminent danger. This danger can be real or imagined. For example, the danger of contagion or death.
  • The main symptoms of fear are a sense of impending danger or doom, feeling agitated, irritable, restless or terrified, feeling tense or appearing tense, worrying about “loss of control”, having a feeling that something bad is going to happen, feeling shaky or trembling, difficulty sleeping or resting, blocking or stopping activity, etc.
  • Fear is a very useful emotion for escaping or avoiding danger, but it is also a barrier that can get in the way of a person’s enjoyment and, if excessive, can block and impede the course of a normal life.
  • As anxiety and stress, fears can also be normal or pathological. The former are those that appear in the face of harmful stimuli, are short-lived and do not interfere with daily life. Pathological fears are those that are activated even when there is no danger and can last indefinitely. Lack of fear can also result in harm to the individual and society, because risks can be ignored (e.g. ignoring government measures to stop the spread of a virus).

5.2. Difference between hypochondria and nosophobia

  • Hypochondria is a disorder in which the person has a firm belief that he/she is a victim of a severe illness that is not being diagnosed. The person may or may not present physical symptoms from which he/she constructs their belief and a persistent state of worry and checking, and avoidance behaviours (Belloch et al., 2020).
  • Nosophobia consists of a recurrent and persistent fear of contracting a specific disease. It is not the generalised fear that would appear in hypochondria, but the person directs it towards something specific. For example, the appearance of an outbreak of Covid-19 causes this type of phobia to increase, oriented towards that specific disease.

Hypochondria is therefore characterised by a constant focus on the body and its signals, misinterpreting them and explaining that one is suffering from an illness that no one can diagnose, while nosophobia is the fear of falling ill from a specific pathology. The person is not convinced that they are already ill, as is the case with hypochondria, but does not want to become ill and lives with this worry.

1.4. Early and warning signs for seeking help

If you notice that lately you are feeling more frequent and more intense the following symptoms:

Feelings of nervousness, agitation or tension, sense of imminent danger  panic or catastrophe, increased heart rate, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), sweating, trembling, feelings of weakness or tiredness, problems concentrating, problems falling asleep, gastrointestinal problems, difficulties controlling worries and the need to avoid situations that generate anxiety, among others.

Then, use some strategy to cope with it or contact a mental health professional (psychologist and/or psychiatrist) to find a solution as soon as possible. Mental health is important as it is physical health.