For some people, forests are fearful places that can seem even scarier at night time. The excessive, often irrational fear of forests at night or dark wooded areas is referred to as Nyctohylophobia. The word originates from ‘Nycto’ which is Greek for night, and ‘Hylo’ which is Greek for forests. Together these words are combined with Phobos which is the Greek word for dread or deep aversion. The phobia closely relates to Hylophobia, which is the fear of forests, irrespective of day or night.
Many people are afraid of forests. According to a survey conducted by Harris (Taylor 1999), nearly 18% people admitted to the fear of dark wooded areas while 41% reported that they would not want to venture alone or spend a night in a forest. To an extent, the fear of forests at night is also more common in women than in men.
While this phobia might not affect one’s day to day life, especially if the sufferer is staying in a busy city area, just the thought or sight of dark wooded areas (seen on TV, movies etc) can trigger a major panic attack in the sufferer.
Causes of extreme fear of forests at night
As stated above, Nyctohylophobia has cultural roots. Our ancestors probably moved out of forests mainly because of their fear of wild animals and other unknown dangers which these dark wooded areas posed. It might be this very fear that caused mankind to destroy forests on a large scale.
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Several fairy tales and children’s stories could exacerbate the fear of dark wooded areas. Tales like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf were often told to children so they wouldn’t venture out alone in dark wooded areas. Other tales (and later their movie versions) such as The Sleepy Hollow, which tells the story of Ichabod Crane who goes missing after a terrifying headless horseman is seen in the forest, might have been told around campfires to add to the fun element but actually end up creeping young and impressionable minds.
Forests and dark wooded areas are unknown territories. The early European and British settlers often encountered hostile Indians and wild animals in forests, which were also associated with diseases such as Malaria. It was believed that humans who ventured into these dark wooded areas were more prone to getting sick and dying. Because of such fear, there was large scale cutting down of trees to clear the land up.
African and Asian forests are still believed to be homes to ‘savage’ creatures. Add to this the dark that comes after sun down, and things can seem even more frightening, especially to people suffering from other anxiety disorders. Often, the fear of forests at night is associated with the fear of the dark, Agoraphobia, fear of death as well as Schizophrenia etc.
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A negative episode in the past, such as being left alone or being lost in a forest (and spending a terrifying night all alone) could also lead to a permanent fear of dark wooded areas.
Symptoms of Nyctohylophobia
The fear of dark wooded areas can bring on many symptoms, namely a full blown panic attack that is characterized by the following:
- Hyperventilation, shallow rapid breathing, heart palpitations.
- Sweaty hands, dry mouth
- Desire to flee, run or hide, or even cry, scream. The phobic often ends up embarrassing him/herself due to this behavior.
- Nausea, headache, gastrointestinal distress may be experienced.
- The phobic often realizes that his/her fears are unfounded, but most are unable to prevent the anxiety attack.
- Most Nyctohylophobics try to avoid events such as picnics, camping, hiking etc owing to their fear.
- They might also avoid watching movies that depict dark wooded areas.
As with all other phobias, the fear of forests at night manifests itself in form of different symptoms based on individual levels of fear.
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Overcoming the fear of dark wooded areas
- If the fear is interfering with your job or relationships etc, it is best to seek help and talk out the fear with a professional.
- You can use the Desensitization technique, though this is best done under guidance of an expert. This involves confronting one’s fear, first under non-threatening conditions (visiting a forest during the day) and slowly progressing to facing the forest at dusk etc.
- Self help techniques such as deep breathing, positive visualization and guided meditation are known to help control anxiety and panic attacks.
- Hypnotherapy is known to also work, especially in extreme cases. This method can get to the root of the phobia and is known to be highly beneficial in treating Nyctohylophobia in adults.
- Medication may be used but it should be the last line of treatment when all else fails. Many drugs help relieve anxiety but they come with a plethora of side effects.
Other modern methods of overcoming Nyctohylophobia include Neuro Linguistic programming as well as Cognitive Behavior therapy.