Which word best describes fear?

Anxiety researcher: Nobody has died because of the thought of death

DW: The coronavirus crisis suddenly puts us in the middle of a danger zone: public life is restricted, borders are closed, a disaster is declared and millions of children can no longer go to school. We are experiencing a crisis that stirs fear and panic among many Europeans. How does one expert describe the fear that now plagues many?

Jürgen Hoyer: Fear is there to draw people's attention to dangers. So it is in the nature of things that people are currently afraid. It is perfectly natural for someone to be scared if they belong to the coronavirus risk group. In addition, there is a vague feeling of threat because we do not know exactly how things will go from here. That is a primal human fear - the fear of the unknown. We don't know how long it will all take, what the consequences of the crisis will be. It's that uncomfortable feeling that as individuals we are out of control. This is the most fearful condition.

Anxiety researcher Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hoyer

What is the best way to deal with fear? Is there a miracle cure there?

There is no trick to magic away this emotion, because then one would deny the reality. Anyone who is afraid now is just being honest. It is the best way to say: The fear is there, I feel drowsy - but what does it matter? Because fear has the same course as other emotions: They come and they go. In the next few weeks, not a day will go by without worrying about how things will look with and after Corona. The consequences are uncertain - it won't be like it used to be. Of course you worry in such a situation.

But at some point the attention will automatically shift back to other things. After all, the world is not going to end. Nature is still there; also the house and the car. There is absolutely a danger - but it does not endanger the big picture, but certain aspects of life.

The lung disease that the coronavirus causes deaths every day. The thought of death plays a bigger role in these times. Difficult to talk about, isn't it?

People who belong to a risk group must be careful not to get infected. Older people are at a much higher risk of dying due to the deteriorated function of the immune system and organs. Relatives don't want to experience that and you can talk about it with confidence. The subject of death is always happily circumnavigated and handled like a taboo. But that's not right: no one has died from the thought of death.

Many people now work from home and have reduced their social contacts to slow the spread of the virus. What would you recommend so that social distance and quarantine are not destructive?

It's a chance to improvise and be creative. One should reflect on what is really considered meaningful activity. It is a good idea to train yourself physically. You can also do sports in the quarantine. Anyone who loves to read and study can also do so in quarantine. The internet is still accessible, the smartphone is still available. You can still get in touch with people. There are countless activities outside of watching series and sitting in front of the television. You can catch up on things that you have left behind recently. Quarantine, for example, would be a great time to do your tax return.

Can a pandemic like the corona epidemic cause psychological problems?

Short-term anxiety is unhealthy for the body. But the reduced opportunities for activity in everyday life are harmful for people who have a tendency to depression, sadness, withdrawal, dejection and loss of interest. It's not good for these people. And what I said earlier applies here: be as active as possible. There are also meaningful activities within your own four walls. The best thing in life is a good conversation - I can have that at any time, even in quarantine.


The interview was conducted by Deger Akal.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hoyer is professor for behavioral psychotherapy at the Technical University of Dresden. A major focus of his research is anxiety disorders and depression.