Why do I have a fear of being sick?

What causes a fear of being sick/ emetophobia?

Contrary to what many sufferers believe, a terrible experience related to being sick (or someone else being sick) is not the fundamental cause of emetophobia. Instead it’s driving force is a lack of belief that you can cope in the situation. This can be both a fear of not being able to control your emotions and not being able to keep your anxiety levels under wraps. Another key factor that also raises anxiety levels is the fear of being judged; either due to your reaction or because you have this problem and don’t want others to find out.

People with emetphobia have a fear of being sick in public places, a fear of being sick anxiety and fear of being sick panic attacks.

Both the symptoms experienced and components of thinking that cause emetophobia are very predictable, like every other mental illness.  

Here is a list of some of the components that cause a fear of being sick:

  • Disgust propensity: This is the reason why 97% of sufferers are women. Disgust propensity is the belief that things like wee, poo and sick are disgusting. Afterall, traditionally girls are brought up with all things sweet and nice and boys laugh at farting and poos!

  • Lack of coping skills: Knowing you can cope in any situation, even if it’s uncontrollable or something has gone wrong means that you don’t create anxiety. Without this belief you worry about what could go wrong and this raises anxiety and emotional levels. When someone does not have coping skills they have high anxiety and their desire for control is high.

  • High desire to be in control: This is a need to feel in control of anything and everything around you. When you believe you can’t cope in a situation, you control aspects of it to make you feel more able to cope. The most extreme form of control is avoidance. For example, you may check the use by date on foods or only eat certain foods when you go out. Avoidance means that you don’t have to tolerate the intense anxiety of the situation, but in fact it just reinforces to you that you can’t cope and makes you feel more powerless.

  These people can be known as control freaks!

  •  Low self-esteem: When you don’t think you have qualities, capabilities or are good enough then you don’t have belief in yourself. Instead, you doubt your abilities to cope or tackle different and new situations.

  •  High social anxiety: This is a fear of being judged and is directly related to low self-esteem.  Emetophobes have extremely high social anxiety – they are extremely fearful of being judged by others. This can be their fear of being judged for being sick (after all that’s disgusting isn’t it!), their fear of what emotion they might show, or showing a lack of control /coping either when being sick or in any other situation. They can be very good at hiding all this anxiety through their desire for control. They want to give off the image that; “I am fine, everything’s under control”.

  • Perfectionism: Low self-esteem is a key driver for perfectionism. When someone doesn’t feel that they are good enough, they strive to be better. This leads them to set high expectations of themselves – these can be unrealistically high. So, when they fail to meet those expectations, they deem themselves as a failure. Because perfectionists are always pushing themselves so hard, they do tend to do really well in life, however, they never feel that they have achieved anything and create a lot of anxiety along the way.

  • Obsessing: People who constantly worry and over analyse situations do this because they feel powerless and unable to cope. Obsessing is all about trying to understand the situation, come up with an answer and feel more in control. However, unfortunately it does the opposite. It raises anxiety levels even more because you are going over and over something that you believe makes you feel anxious. It also causes tunnel vision, in that you are so engrossed in the issue that you can’t gain perspective. This makes you feel lost, confused and more powerless.

  • Catastrophising: The old saying “Making a mountain out of a mole hill” fits this exactly. Catastrophising is all about making a big deal about things, using big words and thus making it feel like a much bigger issue than it truly is. Again, this leads to losing perspective on a situation. Using statements like: “I would rather die than be sick”, “I can never cope in that situation” or “That always happens to me” are dramatic and again makes someone feel more powerless or fearful.


There other factors that also contribute to the cause and help to maintain this phobia, but I won’t go into them in detail here.


Gaining an understanding of every aspect of the thinking that drives your phobia makes it much easier to unravel and overcome. The Thrive Programme (Cure your Emetophobia & Thrive) is the only predictable and successful cure for a fear of being sick.

I will explain this in more detail and provide some testimonials in the next blog.