What To Know About Xanthophobia

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Xanthophobia (the fear of the color yellow) is a specific phobia. Xanthophobia can cause severe distress and complicate life for those living with it, leading to anxiety, fear, and distressing symptoms,

An aversion to yellow may be related to a mental health condition, a traumatic experience, or sensory processing challenges. Understanding the characteristics and sources of specific phobias can help you address xanthophobia if you believe you might be experiencing it.

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What are specific phobias?

A range of different fears can rise to the level of a phobia if the symptoms are severe. As a category of anxiety disorders, specific phobias involve severe aversion to a stimulus that may or may not be a threat. Life can be challenging for the person experiencing a phobia, and they may go to great lengths to avoid encountering the stimulus. 

Unlike other phobias, avoidance can be challenging with the fear of colors. For example, while you can avoid experiencing anxiety due to the fear of flying by using alternative means of transportation, you might struggle to avoid potential encounters with the color yellow without changing many aspects of life. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a specific phobia may be diagnosed when the individual experiences “marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation.” For diagnosis, the fear must be disproportionate to the threat, and the person must consistently try to avoid what they fear. A psychologist may diagnose a phobia if daily functioning is impaired for six months or longer. 

What is xanthophobia?

Fear of the color yellow, xanthophobia is one type of a specific phobia known as chromophobia, which refers more broadly to phobias of colors. The term xanthophobia is derived from the Greek words xanth (yellow) and phobia (fear). 

Xanthophobia can lead to severe anxiety symptoms and seriously impact an individual’s ability to function. For some, anxiety occurs when they see the color yellow, while others can experience a reaction to the word yellow. Xanthophobia may cause an individual to rid their homes of yellow objects and, potentially, avoid leaving home so that they aren’t confronted with the color.  

Symptoms of xanthophobia

While the symptoms associated with most specific phobias are similar, they can differ depending on the individual and the source of the phobia. For example, someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a comorbid condition of xanthophobia may experience traumatic memories when seeing the color yellow. In contrast, someone who experienced severe food poisoning after eating a banana may experience physical reactions when seeing yellow food. 

Often, specific phobias are characterized by a sense of dread when one experiences the feared stimulus. If you’re living with xanthophobia, you may feel the emotional and mental symptoms of anxiety, such as racing thoughts, nervousness, worry, edginess, and irritability. You may also experience physical symptoms, including the following: 

  • Rapid breathing
  • An irregular heartbeat 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Shaking 
  • Sweating

These mental and physical symptoms can often lead to a panic attack, an immediate physical reaction to anxiety that can cause intense fear, chest pain, and shakiness, among other physical and emotional symptoms. 

Causes of xanthophobia

While the exact cause of a fear of colors is unknown, it is thought to develop due to genetics and environmental factors. Chromophobia can also occur because of a specific traumatic experience. For example, a fear of yellow could originate from a reaction to a bee sting or being in an accident with a vehicle that was yellow.

Xanthophobia that arises out of trauma may be a conditioned response. In this situation, an individual experiencing xanthophobia has been conditioned to associate the color yellow with the traumatic event. When they see the color, they might experience a severe trauma response to rise to the level of a phobia. Due to this connection, chromophobia often develops alongside post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Additionally, those who live with other mental health and developmental disorders—like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and panic disorder)—have an increased risk of developing comorbid xanthophobia.

Treatment for xanthophobia 

Treatment for a specific phobia like xanthophobia can include therapy and, in some cases, medication. The exact treatment plan can depend on the individual and the symptoms they’re experiencing. 

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) 

With exposure therapy, an individual gradually interacts with their fear with therapeutic guidance to alleviate anxiety surrounding the stimulus. This process may occur through physical exposure to stimuli, virtual exposure, or imaginal exposure. Research suggests that exposure therapy is the most effective form of treatment for phobias like xanthophobia. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) 

Founded to help individuals understand the connection between their thoughts and feelings, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a researched-backed method of treating specific phobias. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps clients identify and replace negative thought patterns that may lead to fear. For example, a therapist may help the participant recognize that their fears stem from an experience that may not happen again. Through CBT, the individual may be able to avoid such thoughts and limit symptoms of anxiety associated with xanthophobia. 

Medication

Though less widely utilized than therapy, medication is sometimes used short-term to reduce symptoms of specific phobias like xanthophobia. Anti-anxiety medications are occasionally used. Consult with your doctor before starting or stopping any medication. 

Lifestyle changes 

In addition to therapy with a mental health professional, there are several strategies you can employ on your own to help you decrease symptoms of xanthophobia, including the following. 

Exercise

Physical activity has been shown to reduce anxiety associated with a specific phobia. Consider aerobic exercise like running, hiking, or biking, or start an at-home exercise routine that you can consistently add to your schedule.  

Sleep

A healthy amount of sleep can improve anxiety symptoms and, according to research, enhance the effectiveness of exposure therapy when treating specific phobias. Try to implement a regular nighttime routine to get better sleep. Your routine might include avoiding your phone for an hour before bed, drinking herbal tea, journaling, meditating, or partaking in calming activities that prepare you for sleep.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol 

Caffeine is a stimulant that can exacerbate symptoms of specific phobia, while alcohol can diminish the amount of GABA (a relaxation-inducing chemical) in the brain, potentially leading to worsening anxiety. Consider limiting the amount of caffeine you drink by switching from coffee to tea or reducing your intake. In addition, consider reducing your alcohol consumption or abstaining altogether. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Are you looking for help working through a specific phobia?

Online counseling

Many people reach out to in-person therapists in their area for treatment. However, some individuals with phobias have fears of leaving home, which can be a barrier to receiving support. If you relate to this fear or are looking for a convenient form of care, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may benefit you. 

Research shows that online therapy can effectively reduce symptoms of specific phobias. In one study, researchers found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy decreased participants’ anxiety significantly, with 35% of individuals no longer fitting the diagnostic criteria for specific phobia after treatment. These results can be added to several other studies pointing to online therapy as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders like specific phobias. 

When you sign up for an online platform, you may be able to receive a match with a therapist within 48 hours. In addition, you can often choose the method of therapy you want to receive, whether it’s video calling, phone calling, or live messaging with your therapist. With a level of flexibility, online therapy may be ideal for those with a phobia. 

Takeaway

Xanthophobia can be challenging to live with, but you’re not alone in experiencing it. To further understand the causes of this phobia and how to treat it, consider contacting an expert in specific phobias online or in your area for guidance and support.
It is possible to overcome phobias
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