HIV & AIDS Fear and Anxiety

By Avert

This page is designed to help those who feel anxious about HIV and AIDS. It could be a fear that they are infected with HIV, or it could be a fear of being at risk of HIV infection.

Are you anxious or worried because you have been diagnosed HIV positive?

Being diagnosed HIV positive can be devastating to have to deal with but it is not necessarily a death sentence, nor something you need to cope with on your own. Being anxious or fearful of having HIV and all that it entails is perfectly natural. Fear and anxiety are just a couple of many emotions you will inevitably feel, and you will have to manage. How you respond to the feelings you will experience is a personal thing but it is not something that has to be done alone.

There are many sources of help and advice available to people diagnosed with HIV and a good place to start would be looking at AVERT’s pages on learning you are HIV positive.

Are you worried you have been infected?

It can be perfectly natural to worry about HIV/AIDS. HIV is a virus that can be transmitted from one person to another, but there are very specific ways of becoming infected and often many of the ways people think they have been infected are wrong. HIV is a virus that cannot just appear from two people who do not have it.

“it is important to know how you can and cannot be infected”

It is important, however, not to let worry or fear stop you from being rational about the reality of infection. If you have been involved in an activity that is deemed risky or feel you may have been exposed to HIV then it is important to know how you can and cannot be infected.

If you are worried you have been exposed to possible transmission then read our page on how you can and cannot be infected. This page will tell you clearly if you are at possible risk or not.

Are you still worried you have been infected?

If you have read the ways in which you can and cannot be infected then you should be able to work out whether or not you are genuinely at risk of having been infected. Although there are no obvious symptoms of HIV, our HIV symptoms page may help in answering some of your worries. If you believe you are at risk from having been exposed to possible infection then it is very important you go and get tested.

All the information you will need regarding testing can be found on our HIV testing page.

Are you worried you could get infected?

If you are someone who feels they are at risk of possible exposure to HIV then there is nothing wrong with having a healthy worry about the risks of transmission. It is likely that you either worry about exposure due to your personal lifestyle (you engage in unprotected sex or use intravenous drugs), or because you are exposed to blood through the nature of your job. Many people who work in the health sector or with ‘at risk’ groups worry about HIV infection. Having this worry is a rational and totally logical worry and one that should not be ignored. If you are in a job where exposure to HIV is likely then make sure that not only your employer, but also you, take the appropriate measures to protect yourself against infection by employing the system of Universal Precautions.

It is very common also for people to worry about infection through general contact in everyday life. There are always rumours and myths surrounding AIDS and it is important to remember that scenarios of deliberate infection are normally myths, often circulated on the Internet and made to look very legitimate. The problem with these myths is that no matter how much they are dismissed and exposed as hoaxes, the damage is done. The fear has already been instilled. It is extremely important to remember these are just myths though. They are not fact.

For the people who have a genuine worry that they are at risk of potential exposure due to the nature of their job or personal lifestyle, take appropriate precautions and again be fully aware of how HIV can be transmitted.

Do you have a constant fear of infection?

It is not uncommon to be afraid and scared of being infected with HIV/AIDS and for many this fear can be very debilitating and can completely take over and control that person’s life. There are many reasons why HIV/AIDS can generate such a fear among people.

AIDS is a relatively new disease that only came to the attention of scientists in the early 1980s. As a result, there is still much people don’t know about the nature of HIV and AIDS. Lack of knowledge about anything is often a likely cause for worry in people. The media has also played its part with often sensationalist stories serving only to heighten people’s fear and worry. It is very easy for the press to make the story worse in order to create a good story. A combination of little actual fact and sensationalist story writing is a potent cocktail for creating fear.

There also seems to be an assumption that only certain people get infected. It is true that the occurrence of HIV is higher amongst drug users and homosexuals, and these are groups that are often looked down on or stigmatised in some societies. Because of this an irrational fear can develop where a person believes the virus will be passed on if contact with anyone from these certain affected groups is made. However, this is an emotional assumption which is not based on any fact at all.

People can also develop a fear if they do something which is often deemed bad or wrong, like having sex with a sex worker. The guilt that can arise after doing something they think is ‘wrong’, may lead them to expect to be cursed or punished, for example by being infected with HIV.

If you do have a constant worry about being infected it may be best to get yourself tested. This should then settle your worries and reassure you. Look at our HIV testing page for more information.

Are you convinced you will be infected or feel you are at constant risk of infection?

If you are convinced that either you have been, or will be infected, despite what you have been told to the contrary, then it could be possible that your anxiety and fear of HIV is actually something that has nothing to do with HIV or AIDS.

People who suffer from anxiety can often have persistent concerns about harm or risk to themselves. This is a type of anxiety disorder that can cause people to become obsessed with germs or dirt, and in some cases HIV. This can result in certain rituals such as repetitive hand washing or the need to check things repeatedly, like how you can and can’t become infected.

If you think you might be in this situation then try speaking to your doctor about it.

Written and provided by Avert.