When does the fear of closeness become pathological?

Most Swiss have now internalized the need to keep their distance.

Statue: Keystone

After all the social distancing, you suddenly feel uncomfortable in the hustle and bustle. When is this normal – and when? An expert on the psychological consequences of the “new reality”.

A concert evening in the Stadtpark – but also in summer 2020 there will be nothing as usual. The visitors sit in small groups on the floor at a sufficient distance. Nobody gets too close to their fellow human beings. Everything Crown-conforming. And yet a bad feeling creeps in. You keep looking around in the group that is in control: Are the others keeping enough distance? And where does the man who suddenly gets up wants to go now? But not for me, right?

If you cannot get rid of the tension on such pleasant occasions, it is cause for concern – a burgeoning one Social anxiety?

Undine Lang, director of the adult clinic and private clinic of the University Psychiatric Clinic Basel, assured: “This is certainly a normal reaction when the crowd is unknown again after months of social retreat,” she said when asked by “Bluewin”. “.

Lang reminds us that fears are normal and often have an important protective function for the body and mind. In the corona crisis, for example, fear of contamination can save us.

Anxiety can also be healthy

But when does fear become unhealthy? Fears should be treated “if they prevent us from doing the things that are important in our lives,” explains the psychiatrist. “When all you want is suddenly on the other side of fear and cannot be overcome.”

Examples could be when you have to leave college because of exam anxiety, or when fear of being busy means you won’t meet your friends or stay away from work.

This threatens a vicious circle, says Lang: As fear increases, people increasingly avoid situations that trigger this fear.

Some are even less stressed

Show that the corona crisis is negatively affecting mental health various studies. In one survey 40 percent of the participants at the University of Basel state that they still feel more stressed after the lockdown than before the outbreak of the corona crisis. It must also be said: 32 percent felt even less stressed.


Have you been affected by the pandemic?

This different approach to the “new reality” can also be seen in the University Psychiatric Clinic Basel: In the last few months around ten percent fewer patients have been admitted to the hospital. “But that could be because people are avoiding the hospital because they are afraid of getting infected,” says Lang.

In contrast, there are around 100 patients who developed mental illness simply because they were stuck – either due to the loss of a partner living abroad or due to a new stressful situation at work, financial difficulties, or the loss of loved ones. For others, however, the pandemic is a relief as the pressure to be socially exposed has subsided.

Women are more at risk

About two percent of the population actually suffer from social phobia. This is characterized by panic attacks that occur when someone feels like they are being watched by others. Often there is also a fear of attracting negative attention or being the center of attention.

According to Lang, women are more at risk than men, shy people more than extroverts. Even people who have experienced moments of great insecurity in social situations – for example because they were bullied as a child – are at a higher risk of developing social anxiety disorder.

Genetic predisposition also plays a role. Since some patients resort to alcohol or sedatives to deal with them, there is also a risk of addiction, which makes treatment difficult.

The risk of depression also increases

According to Lang, the studies currently assume that anxiety disorders increase more frequently – this also applies to depression. Due to restrictions in daily life, hobbies and social contacts can no longer be maintained to the usual extent, which can lead to depressive disorders.

Erich Seifritz, President of the Swiss Association for Anxiety and Depression, also sees a risk in this: “A structured everyday life with regular tasks and reliable social contacts is very important for people in general and especially for people with depression,” he said recently released in one Interview. “This usually no longer applies, which increases the risk of depression worsening or relapse.”

According to Lang, the personal environment plays a crucial role in resistance to mental illness: “If the environment is meaningful and stable, it protects against mental illness.” A healthy partnership, an active group of friends, a steady job, contact with animals, physical fitness – all of these can have “very positive effects on mental and physical health”.

From this perspective there is a lot to be said when attending a city park concert.

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