Interview “Survival does not depend on the sports car”

Icon image of old-age provision
Icon image of old-age provisionGetty Images

Mr. Zwanzger, why are people afraid at all?

Peter Zwanzger, chief physician for psychosomatic medicine at the Inn Salzach Clinic in Wasserburg am Inn and president of the Society for Anxiety Research

PETER ZWANZGER: The feeling of fear has only one purpose: ensuring survival. In the past people were afraid of wild animals like tigers, today we are more concerned with financial worries and diseases. Some people are more afraid, others less. This is quite normal and also has genetic reasons, as we know today.

People’s fear is the business of insurers. How rational are people when choosing insurance policies?

The motivation to take out insurance is fairly rational: people want to keep their current status, for example the job or the house. While household or occupational disability insurance can make up for the loss, life insurance and similar policies are of course more difficult. But the basic idea behind it remains the same: worry comes before fear. Those who face up to these concerns and weigh up risks can take precautions – classic precautionary measures. Insurance or money invested can weigh people safely, according to the motto: I prefer to think about the emergency now rather than be afraid later.

You can’t insure yourself against everything, we have to live with some risks. What is a healthy level of prevention?

In general, it is normal and healthy to worry. It only becomes pathological if the fear or worry is unfounded or breaks out regularly. For example, I once had an entrepreneur in front of me who was terrified of losing his sports car in a crisis. Rationally speaking, of course, his survival does not depend on his sports car. In his life, however, the car had become more than a means of transportation.

Are wealthy people with many status symbols more prone to unfounded fears?

The risk of such fears can increase with status. Anyone who has reached a very high level of quality of life and luxury will no longer want to lose it – which is understandable. For fear, however, some people sometimes make rash decisions, engage in risky investments or conclude unprofitable policies, all in the hope of maintaining the status quo. Rational thinking stops, fear takes over. A general life and investment tip on my part is therefore always: Reflect on yourself and your behavior. They are more than the sports car or the villa and there are more important things that make you up and that are worth protecting.

That sounds almost philosophical.

To a certain extent, prevention is also a philosophical matter. I am convinced that good, experienced bankers and insurance agents are often unintentionally more than just advisers in money matters. A consultation can quickly get to a philosophical or psychological level. In the search for suitable investments or policies, people disclose a lot: how much they own, what is important to them, what they are afraid of and how willing to take risks. The bank or insurance consultant has to adjust to each customer and take their wishes and fears seriously. As long as fear and courage are in a good balance, as with most people, there is usually a good, reasonably rational pension plan.

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