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No, don't touch me!", a common response after the pandemic.


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Elkin Luis

Professor School of Education and Psychology

Nine months after the beginning of the state of alarm, of diving into information about covid-19, we started to hear the term haphebophobia. Also known as kiraptophobia, aphenphophobia or thixophobia, it is reference letter a persistent, excessive and unrealistic fear of being touched.

Although the concept seems novel, it is not. It was already common in people who have experienced some subject sexual abuse.Those who suffer from haphephobia avoid any social status that involves being touched. When it is not possible, they fall prey to anxiety and distress.

This phobia is related to other disorders in which anxiety predominates. This is the case of misophobia (fear of germs) or oclophobia (fear of crowds). Also obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Context and relationship with the interlocutor

There are programs of study that suggest that the physical contact is determined by the context in which an interpersonal relationship takes place. It is also determined by the perception of how intimate the relationship is assumed to be. That is,in general, we feel comfortable with the physical contact of someone with whom we consider to have a significant emotional bond.

This bond allows us to interpret the situations in which we are immersed. When we observe a person, we try to decipher his or her gestures and ask ourselves different questions. Among others, their identity, intentions, whether or not they can be trusted. Now, in addition, whether they meet the "covid-19 standards".

When we respond to each other, our thoughts have repercussions on our behavior. This makes us respond depending on the Degree of trust we decide to give to the person and the curiosity we feel to know more about him/her. It is the thought that controls the stimulus and not the other way around, in this case. Something fundamental in a context of covid-normality, which marks a different form of interpersonal relationship, limiting the physical contact .

Personal relationships in times of covid-19

The uniqueness of the health crisis lies not only in the SARS-CoV-2 agent. It also lies in the strange and changing ways in which we relate to each other.

During these months of pandemic, more and more questions have arisen that determine the way in which we interact: When will we come out of confinement? How long will we have to wear the mask? What is a narrow contact ? Will we be able to continue working? When will the vaccine come out? Will it work for the different strains? These are questions of endless uncertainty.

We have also had to make countless behavioral changes in such a short period of time.

Change, in whatever form, is initially threatening. It disturbs the equilibrium and sows insecurity. The instability originated after the covid-19 is also compulsive, unpleasant and introduces us to an unforeseen reality. People with haphephobia experience the never-ending uncertainty and the unforeseen realitywith a greater intensity of discomfort than the general population.

Difficulty in adapting to new habits

That the current circumstances force the acquisition of new behaviors to reduce contagion requires full attention and new habits.

Recent and forced changes in our behavior (social distancing, use of masks, hygiene practices, avoidance of large gatherings...) can initiate a vicious circle of discomfort, fear and anxiety in the population. This becomes much more severe in these patients.

Instilling new routines and avoiding certain practices (not touching one's face, not shaking hands or not touching or hugging) requires the reprogramming of a habit. The difficulty of acquiring such changes in a short period of time creates more fear and anxiety.

As a result, people tend to panic and lose control. This makes them more susceptible to development of hazephobia. Also of other specific fears or psychological disorders related to anxiety.

The status is aggravated in a context of information overload. Sometimes accurate, sometimes not so accurate. It provides the perfect breeding ground for the development of distorted thoughts, leading to threat perception of unrealistic intensity.

What are the symptoms of hazephobia?

Symptoms of haphephobia include fear and irrational thoughts. Also poor concentration, tachycardia, hyperventilation, sweating and a feeling of dizziness.

The fact that these are generally automatic and uncontrollable makes sufferers think they are being taken over. It often means that extreme measures are taken to avoid the dreaded status : being touched.

This is known as "safety" or "avoidance" behaviors. This reinforces the phobia rather than resolving it.

Depending on the level of fear, the severity of symptoms varies. Over time, they may become normalized and accepted as limiting beliefs for the person. However, in some cases, hazephobia may worsen as increasingly sophisticated safety behaviors and routines develop.

Some people can build confidence to overcome their reactions to one or two specific people over a long period of time. Others may remain uncomfortable with any form of contact. They can also tolerate it, if they initiate it themselves or if they give express permission to another person to do so.

If this fear persists for more than 6 months, leads to intense avoidance of everyday situations and interferes with life staff or work, it is recommended to seek psychological financial aid .

Fortunately, specific phobias respond very well to psychotherapeutic treatment, in some cases combined with antidepressant or beta-blocker medication. The use of therapy-trained coping mechanisms financial aid reduces the impact of haphebophobia on daily life and facilitates long-term coping deadline.