Phobophobia: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Updated November 22, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines a phobia as “a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, or activity, which is consequentially either strenuously avoided or endured with marked distress.” You’ve probably heard of different versions of this before, such as a phobia of dogs, heights, spiders, flying, etc. Phobophobia is a lesser known example but have several general characteristics of other phobias. Let’s take a look at what causes phobophobia, as well as symptoms and treatment options.

What Is Phobophobia?

Phobophobia comes from phobos, the Greek word for “fear” or “flight.” In other words, phobophobia is literally a fear of fear. It refers to the fear of developing a phobia or experiencing the fear, anxiety, or other symptoms related to a triggered phobia.

People with phobophobia may find that their life is severely disrupted by it. Some may already have certain phobias and become afraid of potentially gaining more. Or, their intense fear of developing a certain, specific phobia could lead to actually developing it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They may also be so terrified of experiencing the fear that comes with a phobia that they begin to avoid situations where it might possibly arise, which can hinder them in work, relationships, and life in general.

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Phobias Are Intense And Can Disrupt Your Daily Life

Symptoms Of Phobophobia

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), any type of phobia may manifest in the following symptoms:

  • Dry mouth

  • Extreme dread

  • Extreme anxiety

  • Excessive sweating

  • Rapid breathing

  • Heart palpitations

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Irritability

  • Confusion

  • Lack of focus

  • Avoidance behavior

  • Feeling powerless

  • Fear of losing control

  • Obsessive thoughts about the subject of one’s phobia

With phobophobia, any of these symptoms may be triggered by seeing, talking about, or thinking about fear. Those with phobophobia may also fear experiencing any of the symptoms on this list, since they’re all caused by feelings of fear in the first place. That’s why phobophobia can be a uniquely cyclical pattern that’s often difficult to break. 

What Causes Phobophobia?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, phobophobia may have a variety different causes or contributing factors, including:

  • Family history. Some inherited genes can increase a person’s risk of developing certain mental health conditions, including anxiety or phobias. 

  • Existing phobias. Someone who already has a phobia may develop phobophobia due to their fear of experiencing the symptoms associated with it. For example, someone who has arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and has experienced a panic attack because of it in the past may develop phobophobia because they fear another panic attack.

  • Past trauma. Seeing someone else experience the symptoms of a phobia could lead an individual to fear that thing themselves. Or, experiencing a traumatic, fear-inducing scenario at some point in their past could have left a person with a deep fear of how they felt at the time—which could be even scarier to them than the situation itself was.

Treatment Options For Phobophobia

If a phobia is causing significant distress, impacting daily functioning, or impacting relationships, it may be worthwhile to seek treatment. The primary treatment for phobias of all types is usually some form of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common because one of its central tenets is adjusting flawed, unhelpful, or warped patterns of thinking. A phobia is generally classified as an irrational fear, which means that phobophobic thoughts fall into this category. Working with a therapist may help a person with a phobia shift their automatic thought patterns in a more rational, helpful direction. 

Because some phobias can be debilitating, seeking the help of a therapist can be intimidating, anxiety-inducing, or triggering. Online therapy can be a useful alternative in this case. Since research suggests that it offers similar benefits to in-person sessions, those who find it more comfortable to connect with a mental health professional from the comfort of their own home can do so easily. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone or video call for help with the challenges you may be facing. 

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Managing Symptoms Of Phobophobia

Learning to manage symptoms of phobophobia can also be helpful. A therapist may offer strategies for this, which you can practice as you continue to seek treatment for a debilitating phobia. Some of the following tips may also help:

  • Talk to a person you trust. Research shows that having a healthy social support system is vital for well-being, and this is especially true for those who are experiencing mental health disorders. Being listened to in a non-judgmental way by someone you trust, like a family or a friend, may help you feel less anxious about your phobia and less alone in your fear.

  • Cultivate a mindfulness practice. A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness can help promote better mental health and even manage or diminish symptoms of disorders like anxiety and depression. Learning a few mindfulness techniques that you can practice regularly from wherever you are may be helpful in managing the symptoms associated with a phobia.

  • Learn how to handle panic attacks. If you experience panic attacks as a symptom of your phobia, there are some techniques you can employ that may help you get through them. A few suggested by Anxiety Canada include calm, regular breathing through your nose, progressive muscle relaxation, and challenging unhelpful thoughts. Grounding yourself by paying attention to sounds, sights, smells, and sensations may also help.

  • Seek out a support group. Local or online support groups exist for a variety of phobias. Speaking with others who knows your phobia may be helpful, since you might feel less alone and learn from what they’ve found works for them.

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Phobias Are Intense And Can Disrupt Your Daily Life

Takeaway

If any phobia becomes debilitating, it’s generally wise to seek treatment. Although it can seem all-consuming or overwhelming, effective treatment is available for those experiencing phobophobia or other similar conditions.

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