Nosocomephobia: How to Deal With the Fear of Hospitals

What comes to mind when you think of hospitals? Beeping machines? Needles? Hospital staff buzzing in and out of rooms? Maybe that classic hospital green color? While hospitals are places of healing, they are also associated with sterile environments that conjure unpleasant sights, smells, and sounds. For some, hospitals elicit a strong fear called nosocomephobia.

Key takeaways:

What is nosocomephobia?

Nosocomephobia is the fear of hospitals. It’s normal to be anxious about going to the doctor or being in a medical setting. An unfamiliar environment lacking the comforts of home, fear of bad news or potentially painful procedures are all valid worries.

So how do you know if you have an actual hospital phobia? A phobia is an uncontrollable, debilitating fear, and it’s actually classified as an anxiety disorder. Someone with a phobia may recognize that their fear is disproportionate to the actual danger, but the fear persists.

Nosocomephobia may cause:

  • Excessive worrying about the thought of hospitals.
  • Avoiding hospitals at all costs, even for necessary medical treatment or to visit a loved one.
  • Symptoms of intense anxiety such as dizziness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, an urge to run or escape, stomach aches, nausea, and even panic attacks.

What causes hospital phobia?

There are several factors that can cause hospital phobia. Some common causes include:

  • Genes. Phobias can be genetic, meaning they can run in families.
  • Past medical trauma. A traumatic experience in a medical setting can cause deep distress. This includes witnessing the pain or death of a loved one or having a painful prior experience yourself. Trauma can trigger an involuntary stress response.
  • Fear of infections. Hospital phobia may be caused or related to worries about getting a hospital-acquired infection. These include urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, surgical site infections, or a gastrointestinal germ called C. difficile.
  • An unfamiliar environment. A hospital stay means illness or injury and a loss of control. All of a sudden a medical team is making decisions about your care from what kind of tests to run to what you can eat and where you can move about.
  • Medical costs. Healthcare is expensive. Cost drives many people’s decisions about medical care, which leads some to avoid it altogether. Often, you won’t know the price of hospital care until you get the bill months later. It is easy to wonder and worry about the cost of every lab draw, medication dose, and imaging scan.
  • Hospital environment. Hospital environments can feel sterile. Some may associate them with other fears like blood and death.

How is hospital phobia treated?

Hospital phobia can be treated with different kinds of therapy, such as exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a kind of cognitive-behavior therapy that gradually exposes people to their fears one step at a time, in a controlled environment, with the goal of eliminating their phobia. If you have a planned hospital stay, try arranging a hospital tour ahead of time so you know what the environment feels like.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, facilitated by a trained therapist, can help you work through the underlying causes of hospital phobia by identifying unhelpful thoughts and developing skills to overcome them. It takes time to establish a positive relationship with a therapist and invest in new skills.

Dealing with nosocomephobia

There may not be a quick fix to overcoming hospital fear, but here are some tools and tips to keep in mind.

  • Knowledge is power. If a non-emergent condition has landed you in the hospital, try to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and treatment. While a more thorough understanding won’t remove fear, it can eliminate some unknowns that may perpetuate negative thought cycles.
  • Ask for support. Many hospitals employ all kinds of support staff such as music therapists, acupuncturists, and chaplains. Ask your medical team for support services during your stay.
  • Visitors. While you may not be able to leave the hospital during your stay, you can bring your outside world in. Ask about the visitor policy and video call with friends and family.
  • Decorate. Most hospitals don’t allow flowers, but you can bring photos or request that your visitors help brighten up your room with cards and decorations.
  • Home-cooked food. Depending on your prescribed diet, home-cooked meals are some of the best medicine for the soul. Ask visitors to deliver some meals made from scratch.
  • Aromatherapy. Essential oils are beneficial for a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety, pain, nausea, and stress. They can stimulate the release of endorphins that help decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and tension. Inhaling essential oils via a diffuser or room mist can help ease your mind and provide relief from common hospital smells.

Hospital stays are stressful and the environment can be overstimulating and sterile. For those with a fear of hospitals, the best treatment to overcome nosocomephobia is to work with a trained therapist. While this takes time, try to de-mystify your diagnosis with knowledge and modify your hospital environment with some home comforts.

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