President Roosevelt, in his famous inaugural speech, stated that “the only thing we need to fear is fear itself”. In some individuals, this actually rings true: they fear becoming anxious or get extremely overwhelmed at the thought of allowing themselves to become afraid of an object or situation. This fear of fear is termed as Phobophobia.
The word Phobophobia originates from the Greek word Phobos which means fear. The fear of fear phobia is often linked to Nosophobia (fear of getting sick), or Agoraphobia (which is the fear of being unable to escape or the fear of wide open spaces) as well as Claustrophobia (which is the fear of small and enclosed spaces). Mainly, phobophobic individuals fear embarrassing themselves or having an anxiety attack which then starts getting interlinked with specific situations or circumstances.
Thus, Phobophobia is a very self limiting and self replicating phobia in that; the sufferer already might have one or more existing phobias but continues to fear developing more. Converse is also true: a person may not be having any established phobia but may still continue to develop a fear of getting one that may entail curtailing his/her daily activities.
Causes of Phobophobia
As stated above, Phobophobia or the fear of fear is very real. People with existing anxiety disorders have an increased risk of developing Phobophobia. As with other phobias, Phobophobia also originates from a panic disorder. Panic is the onset of sudden, unreasoning or hysterical fear.
Typically, nothing in one’s external environment triggers such a phobia; it is usually only the internal thought processes that stimulate it. However, an initial sensitizing event can be considered the root cause of most phobias. This is the point from which the person’s mind becomes like a sensitive time bomb waiting for or anticipating further symptom-producing events. Thus, the cause of the fear of fear phobia becomes the key for its treatment.
Symptoms of the fear of fear phobia
Phobias are never conscious; rather they are embedded deep into one’s psyche and continue to cripple the sufferers for months or years until treatment is sought. As stated above, anxiety and panic attacks are the most common symptoms of this phobia. Other physical symptoms include:
- Dry mouth
- Uncontrollable Sweating, trembling or shaking
- Trying to flee
- Crying, screaming or other Hysterical behavior
- Increased heart rate and shortness of breath
An internal movie plays in the phobic’s mind: s/he might get visions of death, dying, or experiencing dread or terror. The phobic tries to avoid anxiety but ends up becoming so anxious about it, that it becomes a vicious circle. His/her mind fights a losing battle against anxiety. Such panic attacks per se are not dangerous, but the person feels as if s/he is having a heart attack.
When left untreated, Phobophobia can escalate rapidly out of control. The person may turn to drugs or other substance abuse. Suicide is also common in such individuals.
Professional therapies like Hypnoanalysis are some of the most effective ways of treating Phobophobia. Most other phobias can be overcome using self help methods but in case of fear of fear phobia, it is best to seek professional help.
The key is to learn to relax when an anxiety attack sets in. Some therapists advocate the use of calming drugs and anti depressants for this purpose. However, many of these medications have terrible side effects. One can, instead, opt for homeopathic treatment that recommends herbs like St. John’s Wort, or Chamomile and Lavender etc for soothing anxiety and depression.
Online as well as face-to-face support groups have also been quite beneficial for helping Phobophobics. These may not have the same effect as professional therapies but they can help one take comfort in the fact that s/he is not alone in the fight against Phobophobia.