There are many types of anxiety disorders. One of them is ataxophobia, which is the fear of disorder or untidiness. You might not be familiar with it unless you or someone you know has struggled with it. Here is an overview of what ataxophobia is and its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What Is Ataxophobia?
First, it is helpful to define what ataxophobia is. It is a fear of things not being neat and tidy and a fear of things being out of place and disordered. It goes beyond a normal desire for one’s surroundings to be neat and clean. It is not simply being interested in things being neat and clean, which is a normal desire.
Here are some examples of what ataxophobia looks like on a daily basis. People who have ataxophobia might clean and tidy things up in their surroundings more frequently and more intently than the typical person does. Perhaps they are constantly cleaning and straightening things up, from dishes to curtains, to papers, to everything in between. People with ataxophobia are also overly concerned and uncomfortable about being in places that are not tidy or clean. And they are overly concerned about things being symmetrical, such as dishes being lined up and symmetrical in a cabinet.
Ataxophobia is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which involves having unwanted and repeated thoughts (obsessions) that can result in repeated behaviors or the urge to do something (compulsions). People who already have OCD are more likely to develop ataxophobia. Or someone can develop OCD after developing ataxophobia.
What Causes Ataxophobia?
Professionals do not know exactly what causes ataxophobia. However, it seems that people who have anxiety are more likely to get it. Also, people who have a family member who has ataxophobia or another anxiety disorder are more likely to develop it.
In addition, people who have had some trauma or negative experience in their lives related to cleaning or tidiness are more likely to develop ataxophobia.
People who have certain anxiety-related disorders are more likely to develop ataxophobia. That includes, in addition to OCD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and germaphobia (fear of germs).
Symptoms of Ataxophobia
People who suffer from ataxophobia have an extreme dislike for untidiness and uncleanliness. Those types of environments cause them a great deal of stress and fear. They even experience stress just thinking about being in an environment of disorder and messiness.
The symptoms can show up in the form of anxiety, such as feeling tense, irritability, and sleep challenges.
When anxiety is severe and prolonged, there can be physical symptoms. Those can include dizziness, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and shaking. Ataxophobia can also cause relationship problems and strife.
Also, ataxophobia can be so intrusive that it interferes with a person’s daily functioning, such as the ability to leave the house or socialize because of spending so much time cleaning. Or they might be afraid of anyone coming over to their house for fear that someone else will create a mess or take an item out of its usual place.
A person who has ataxophobia might be aware that the fear they experience is irrational but might be unable to control it. They might even be embarrassed or ashamed of the phobia and try to cover it up.
Diagnosis of Ataxophobia
There is no specific medical test, such as lab work, for diagnosing ataxophobia. Diagnosis takes the form of a meeting with a health practitioner who specializes in phobia disorders, including ataxophobia.
The health provider asks many questions, including ones about symptoms of anxiety. For example, the provider might ask how long anxiety symptoms last, what seems to cause them, and what makes the symptoms better. The provider might ask the person who could have ataxophobia what efforts he or she makes to avoid disorder and untidiness. And the provider might ask whether the person suffers from stress and anxiety just thinking about a disordered environment.
Meeting with a provider is also an opportunity to ask questions. Some good questions can include asking what the cause of ataxophobia seems to be in that particular person. And it is good to inquire about whether ataxophobia in that person relates to any other mental health challenges.
Also, it is important to ask what the possible treatment options are and what those entail. Just as important is to ask what would happen if someone does not get any treatment or does not get adequate treatment.
And a person can ask what the chances are of overcoming or at least coping successfully with ataxophobia.
The good news is that people who have ataxophobia do not have to keep suffering from it. There is help and hope in the form of certain treatments. Those treatments include therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), also known as talk therapy. That can occur one on one, where a person meets just with a therapist or counselor. Or it can occur in a group, where several people meet together with a therapist or counselor.
A key part of CBT is discovering the person’s negative thought patterns pertaining to ataxophobia and then correcting and improving those thought patterns. The goal is to help the person think more rationally and productively and thereby lessen ataxophobia.
Another possible treatment is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a type of CBT. It combines talk therapy with certain skills that are beneficial for helping a person cope. It can be wonderful in that it can help a person struggling with ataxophobia to cope with anxiety or stress in more beneficial ways. It also helps a person to better regulate emotions.
Yet another modality is called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which is a program that helps someone struggling with ataxophobia to learn mindfulness techniques. What is interesting is that it combines meditation with yoga practices, and many people know that both of these can be powerful for helping with relaxation and stress reduction. It can help a person to address thoughts that increase stress.
Other options for ataxophobia treatment include stress management techniques. That can take the form of many modalities, including deep breathing, meditation, prayer, reducing workload, better management of relationships, improving communication, stretching exercises, and more. Aerobic or strenuous exercise can help to lessen symptoms when a panic attack is about to start or is starting.
Another type of treatment that can be effective is exposure therapy. It involves gradually exposing a person with ataxophobia to the specific fear, that is, to a messy or dirty environment or a place that is asymmetrical, such as books that are not perfectly aligned on a shelf. The goal is to practice staying relaxed and calm even in a messy or dirty space.
And another treatment option for people struggling with ataxophobia is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). It is especially helpful for people who have experienced trauma. What it does is it teaches the person to focus on traumatic memories while rhythmic movements are occurring. Moving through trauma and healing can be especially difficult, but EMDR helps a person do that without having to be stressed all over again by the traumatic memory.
One other treatment option for people looking for solutions and who have ataxophobia is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Medication is another option for treatment. That can include anti-anxiety medication that can help to prevent panic attacks. Another possible treatment is anti-depressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
So it is clear that there are many treatment possibilities for people who are dealing with ataxophobia. Working with a practitioner who has expertise with that condition can really help to develop an effective treatment plan. Sometimes that might include using several treatments at the same time or using one and then another.
Prevalence of Ataxophobia
It is unclear how many people get ataxophobia, but phobias overall are somewhat common. About 10% of people struggle with some type of phobia during their lives. And phobias are more common in females than in males. Females are twice as likely to develop phobias as males.
The future can look bright for someone who has ataxophobia, but one of the keys is seeking out help and treatment. When someone receives treatment, there is a great deal of hope.
But without treatment, ataxophobia can greatly interfere with someone’s life. They may avoid going places for fear the place will not be clean or tidy enough. That can thus limit their opportunities in life, whether that is for work, social life, or recreation.
Unfortunately, untreated and unmanaged ataxophobia can even lead to symptoms that are as severe as depression and mood disorders. A person can also become isolated socially and even avoid being around loved ones. In more severe and prolonged instances, ataxophobia can lead to the misuse of alcohol or drugs, also known as substance abuse.
It is always important to stay hopeful and optimistic when coping with ataxophobia or any other disorder. There are definitely effective solutions, so it is important to stay focused on those and keep moving forward.