Taphophobia: The Fear Of Being Buried Alive And Other Common Phobias

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The basis of the entire horror genre is the ability to tap into one of humanity's most basic instincts: fear. While the situations and objects in horror movies aim to spark anxiety and unease, some people harbor similar anxieties in connection to seemingly everyday things. 

Typically, an excessive fear of a certain object, situation, or living thing, however rational or irrational, is considered a phobia. In this article, we will explore five common phobias and what you can do to overcome them. 

What is a phobia?

A phobia, as defined by John Hopkins University of Medicine, is “an uncontrollable, irrational, and lasting fear of a certain object, situation, or activity. This fear can be so overwhelming that a person may go to great lengths to avoid the source of this fear.” Phobias can trigger a range of symptoms from overwhelming fear to full-blown panic attacks even at a time when no immediate danger is present.

While it is possible to learn how to manage reactions to phobias, some people may have the ability to avoid their phobias entirely, while others may be forced to face their fears or confront other challenges. 

Five of the most common phobias (taphophobia, claustrophobia, pteromerhanophobia, trypanophobia, & agoraphobia)

The following are five common phobias and challenges they might present for someone living with them. 

Having trouble facing your fears?

The fear of being buried alive

Taphophobia is defined as the fear of being buried alive. This natural fear was both common and rational in the nineteenth century when an American funeral director would sometimes mistakenly place a living person in a burial casket when they were pronounced dead. Prior to modern medicine and medical advances, premature burial occurred when buried persons were victims of an inaccurate diagnosis. 

Literature found fertile ground in these horrible death scenarios, with Edgar Allen Poe stories like The Premature Burial and other Poe stories amplifying the terror. For example, in 1894, Dr. Franz Hartmann published a pamphlet titled Buried Alive: An examination into the occult causes of apparent death, trance and catalepsy. These legends included elements of people's palms turned upward in their coffins, suggesting that the deceased had been buried alive. This fueled resurrection mania and inspired inventors to create devices to prevent this nightmare for surviving family members.

The safety coffin was first introduced in the 18th century, and it quickly became a popular funeral accessory. The coffin featured a variety of features that allowed people to escape if they were buried alive. Safety coffins were designed with features like a spring-loaded rod, a battery powered alarm, and a T-shaped pipe for fresh air to help revive persons considered dead. As technology advanced, safety coffins were further developed to include audio and music files to provide comfort for the buried person. A built-in audio message system allowed communication with the outside world, while the option to edit stored audio files offered a way to customize the experience. These stored audio files and music files aimed to provide reassurance and reduce the fear of premature burial for the person buried.

Taphophobia was a fear of several familiar names throughout history. George Washington, the first president of the United States, had a fear of being buried alive. Some of his last words before his death were a request to wait three days before burying his body. Throughout his life, Hans Christian Anderson also feared that he would accidentally be presumed dead and buried alive.

While the thought of this is quite horrific to most, experts say it is extremely rare to live with severe taphophobia in the 21st century. The growing popularity of embalming in the 19th century and cremation in the 20th century have provided assurance that people are not buried alive. Still, a somewhat related phobia remains incredibly common in the people of today.

The fear of enclosed spaces

Much like taphophobia, studies suggest that claustrophobia seems to stem from an intrinsic need to survive. While it is highly unlikely to find yourself in a situation where you may be accidentally buried alive in current times, people with claustrophobia may have trouble riding in elevators, going through tunnels, riding in planes, or entering small spaces such as attics or closets. Claustrophobia may be considered a more common and even traditional fear, impacting approximately 12.5% of the adult population.

For many living with claustrophobia, their fear of enclosed spaces can lead to many inconveniences and missed opportunities.

The fear of flying

While the fear of flying can be a feature of claustrophobia, pteromerhanophobia is defined as a separate fear entirely. While the fear of flying for some with claustrophobia stems from the enclosed nature of airplanes, pteromerhanophobia stems from fearing the possibility of a plane crash or air disaster. 

Though statistically, plane crashes are very rare, pteromerhanophobia can be difficult for some to overcome which could lead to limitations on a person’s traveling capabilities. 

The fear of needles

Being stuck with a needle is not typically considered pleasant, trypanophobia is classified as an excessive aversion to needles. This particular fear can be a highly important one to overcome, as many lifesaving medications and vaccines must be delivered this way. 

Aside from medical limitations, someone living with trypanophobia may face more minor inconveniences such as the inability to get body piercings or tattoos or even the inability to work in spaces where sewing is a common occurrence.

The fear of open spaces

Though agoraphobia is defined as the fear of open spaces, it typically presents much more complex features. Someone with agoraphobia may be living with a serious underlying anxiety disorder that leads to the inability to leave the home. Many times, people will doubt victims of this phobia, thinking that the inability to leave the home is a result of laziness or lack of motivation. This is not at all true; rather, agoraphobia can be just as serious and disabling as any other mental health illness.

Unlike other more avoidable phobias, agoraphobia can lead to serious disruptions in quality of life. Fortunately, advancements in telemedicine are creating more opportunities to get help for those living with the phobia.

Facing fears and overcoming phobias

Different phobias present different issues. Because of this, there is no one way to overcome fear. While the majority of phobias can be treated, it is possible that certain anxiety disorders could be at play as well. For this reason, it is typically best to consult a therapist or mental health professional.

Typically, phobias are treated using a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. A doctor or mental health professional can typically guide you in effective treatment options related to specific phobias. 

Benefits of online therapy

If you are experiencing difficulty overcoming the negative effects of a fear or phobia, it may be helpful to speak with a therapist. It is not uncommon for certain phobias to create anxiety around social or outside obligations. For this reason, it is possible that online therapy can serve as a more comfortable alternative to in-person therapy. 

Additionally, online therapy may be helpful in exploring the possibility of underlying mental health conditions that may be contributing to the intensity of a phobia. 

Having trouble facing your fears?

Effectiveness of online therapy

According to research, online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is proven to be equally as effective as in-person therapy in regards to reducing the symptoms of certain mental illnesses including general anxiety disorders. 


The extremely varied nature of fears of phobias can make certain ones difficult to define. While some phobias can simply create inconveniences in a person’s life, others can cause major disruptions and indicate the possibility of a more serious issue. A person suffering from a phobia may find themselves struggling with negative effects. If you are living with a phobia, it is best to seek the help of a professional for guidance on how you might overcome them.
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