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Is ‘Haphephobia’ becoming common?

 

It’s rare if you have not heard about Haphephobia in the last months. This phobia is caused by the fear of being touched and because of that is being related to the consequences of coronavirus pandemic. Experts and governments have recommended sanitizing our hands frequently and keeping social distance and people are trying to avoid the infection by following these instructions. But is the fear of catching COVID-19 increasing the number of people who suffer haphephobia? Let’s see.

Symptoms and causes

Haphephobia is an anxiety disorder characterised by the fear of being touched or of touch. It is an unusual phobia more likely to occur in women than men. Some people don’t like physical affection or may feel uncomfortable when someone unknown invades their personal space, but this is not a phobia. However, people who have haphephobia feel an irrational fear just thinking about touch or being touched. That has a negative impact on their lives and affect their relationships.

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What do they feel when being touched? There are some cognitive symptoms such as irrational thoughts about that stimulus, concentration difficulty, or disproportionate fear. Physically, they may suffer tachycardia, hyperventilation, sweating, feeling of dizziness, fainting, anxiety, and panic attacks. Obviously, it leads them to avoid that kind of situation which interferes with the person’s ability to function in day-to-day activities.

Haphephobia may be caused by a traumatic experience, but people with haphephobia may not remember the event that triggered the phobia. It can also run in the family or be related to other conditions such as fear of germs, crowds, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treatment

Like every single phobia, the best way to cope with it is with psychological treatment. It is not about to take medication to block fear, but work to overcome the fear gradually by processing and exposing the situation that creates the phobia. Besides, some good advice to alleviate anxiety and promote overall mental health is by exercising, taking time to relax, and getting enough sleep.

COVID-19 and mental health

Lockdown and the whole environment created by the pandemic may contribute to developing phobias and mental disorders because for so many people is being a traumatic situation. We have had to change our daily lives and our movements are restricted to contain the spread of the virus. Nowadays, people are facing working from home, temporary unemployment, lack of physical contact with other family members or friends, fear of the unknown, and so on.

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With all this context, stress, worry, and fear are normal responses. However, if these feelings are maintained over time and you have a background of psychological, biological, or social vulnerability could turn into mental disorders. That is why it is important to look after our mental health and stay active not just physically.

If that fear, in this case of being touched, is not controlling your life it is not haphephobia, it is just a normal response to everything that is happening right now in the world. So why is everybody talking about a new phobia due to coronavirus? Some social media and press are relating coronavirus and haphephobia because people are avoiding physical contact. But, having in mind what we are facing and what recommendations are, it is totally normal to be careful with what we touch or who we have contact with.

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It is nothing to do with a disorder, it is just what we are being said to do and it does not necessarily have to become a phobia. Also, experts say there is no evidence to link coronavirus to an increase in people suffering from haphephobia. Nevertheless, if you are feeling an irrational fear of being touched or thinking about it and so is affecting your personal or work life, it would be good to see a doctor.

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