What do people instinctively fear?

"The fear of the coronavirus is far exaggerated"

Doctors Zeitung: Professor Bandelow, how much of the Corona crisis is fear and how much is Corona?

Prof. Dr. Borwin Bandelow: It's difficult to say in percentage terms. But I think the fear of the virus and its spread is far exaggerated. I don't want to play down the disease, people die from it too. But from my point of view, it is the same with the corona virus: People get scared because they are facing a new, great and uncontrollable danger. People are more afraid of that than of known dangers. For example, we know that every year 15,000 people die from hospital germs, 9,000 from household accidents and 25,000 died from the flu in 2017 - without panic breaking out.

But the threat of excessive demands on the health system is real when you hear the RKI figures. No reason for fear?

It's about how these numbers are classified. We humans have a relatively young frontal lobe in terms of developmental history, which organizes and processes facts. And we have a fear brain in the brainstem that is very old in terms of developmental history. If a new danger arises, like the corona virus, the fearful brain cannot do anything with it if the frontal brain calculates that the probability of dying from a corona infection is very low. That is why the fear brain reacts instinctively with fear and flight.

Why do people trust their brainstem more than their sober reason?

The decisions of the brain stem are always based on survival. And survival comes first. Seen in this way, people are like animals. They too respond to the decisions made by the brainstem. The fear system does not know how to weigh up facts. For instinct it is immediately a matter of life and death.

With regard to dealing with the Corona crisis, that's a sobering statement: The lizard in us has taken over the helm. Of course, the appeals to reason to refrain from buying hamsters, for example, fizzle out.

That's true. Ms. Merkel's reason arrives in the frontal lobe, but usually does not penetrate the TV viewer's brain stem.

Do the Germans with their "German fear" have greater fears than people from other nations?

People in the north are generally more afraid, maybe that's because they used to think ahead and hoard food in the harsh winters. The fearful skeptics did so and survived, while the carefree died out in the north. We are the descendants of the fearful of yesteryear; Since fears are inherited, we still have the hamster gene today. Which also explains the unreasonable hoarding of food.

What can be done against the fear of corona?

Well, that's difficult. From my experience with phobics, however, I know that opportunities open up. Take the arachnophobia as an example. Even those who fear spiders know that there are no poisonous spiders in this country. But it has been recorded for millennia that poisonous spiders once existed. This is why spiders are generally perceived as dangerous. Many Germans are also afraid of spiders, unnecessarily. The only thing that helps against this is exposure therapy: to sit the spider on your arm, so to speak - and experience that nothing dangerous happens.

How would such exposure therapy for corona phobics look like?

Exposure therapy would certainly not be appropriate. The fear of simply breathing away or autogenic training, of course, that doesn't work. But I know that a few weeks after a crisis has reached its peak, there is usually general calm. There is less coverage of the crisis in the media. People then take the threat more calmly. And with that the panic disappears. Until then, a healthy fatalism would be best: I've always got through well, I will get through well now too. This helps against fear - even if it's just a mantra. We will also survive Corona.

What can doctors say to their insecure patients?

The doctors should also leave the church in the village and radiate security. You must not make your patients even more insecure, even if they are afraid of being infected themselves. In doing so, they can better assess the disease and how to deal with it and reassure their patients with this knowledge.