Phobophobia: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated July 17, 2024by 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 agoraphobia or 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.

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Phobias are intense and can disrupt your daily life

What is phobophobia?

Phobophobia comes from phobos, the Greek word for “fear” or “flight.” In other words, phobophobia is literally an extreme 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 and daily activities where it might possibly arise, which can hinder them in work, relationships, and life in general. For example, some people living with phobophobia may avoid any situation where they may feel fearful, like watching horror movies or riding on roller coasters.

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Symptoms of phobophobia

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

  • Dry mouth

  • Extreme dread

  • Extreme anxiety

  • Excessive sweating

  • Feeling hot

  • Rapid breathing

  • Heart palpitations

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Irritability

  • Dizziness 

  • 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 common 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. The thought of entering a triggering situation may cause a panic attack, which can lead to rapid breathing and cause CO2-induced anxiety symptoms that make the situation worse for someone with phobophobia. That’s why phobophobia can be a uniquely cyclical pattern that’s often difficult to break. 

What causes phobophobia?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the fear of fear may have a variety of 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, phobias, and other anxiety disorders, meaning there could be a genetic component.  

Existing phobias

Someone who already has other types of phobias 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

Past experiences can be linked to current phobias. 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.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Getty/AnnaStills
Phobias are intense and can disrupt your daily life

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 to identify, adjust, and overcome 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. Exposure therapy, a form of CBT, is a common method for the treatment of phobophobia. With exposure therapy, patients are exposed to their phobias gradually alongside a licensed mental health professional to help reduce their reaction over time. Working with a therapist may help a person with a phobia shift their automatic thought patterns and fears in a more rational, helpful direction. Medications are another common option. Once diagnosed, your primary doctor can prescribe medication that may help reduce the severity of your symptoms while you seek treatment with your therapist. 

Managing symptoms of phobophobia

Learning to manage symptoms of phobophobia can also be helpful. A therapist may offer avoidance strategies for this, which you can practice as you continue to seek treatments 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, including an anxiety disorder like phobophobia. 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 anxiety disorders and depression. Learning a few mindfulness techniques that you can practice regularly from wherever you are may be helpful in managing and treating 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 reduce symptoms of your panic disorder.

Seek out a support group

Local or online support groups exist for a variety of phobias. Research ones in your area. Speaking with others who know your phobia may be helpful since you might feel less alone and learn from what they’ve found works for them.

Online therapy can help with phobophobia

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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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.

It is possible to overcome phobias
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