Phobias are interesting for various reasons. While humans typically experience fear in response to a real or perceived threat, phobias are mostly irrational and persistent. People can have phobias about the most arbitrary objects or situations, such as money, bathing, or even the color yellow.
One of the stranger phobias to understand is the fear of music, which is called melophobia. Since just about everyone loves music, albeit their specific style of music, it’s difficult to understand how a person can have an all-pervasive and overwhelming fear of it. To find out more about this interesting phobia, read on.
What Is Melophobia?
People who suffer from melophobia have an irrational fear of music. The term melophobia is derived from Greek, with “melos” meaning music and “phobia” meaning fear.
This condition may seem inconceivable to the regular person on the street. Music is universally loved and revered. It brings joy, comfort, and the ability to transcend the mundane to millions across the world every day.
However, music means quite the opposite to those who suffer from melophobia. Sufferers experience anything from a dislike to an intense fear of music. While some sufferers are able to live a fairly normal life with this condition, others find it completely debilitating.
An unfortunate aspect of this mental disease is that sufferers don’t only experience fear when they hear music. Even the thought of music can trigger feelings of fear or even a full-blown panic attack.
Like all other phobias about specific things or situations, melophobia is an anxiety disorder. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), a specific phobia, i.e., a phobia of something specific, is described as a marked fear that is out of proportion to the specific object or situation. Typically, such phobias are persistent and may last from six months to years.
How Does Melophobia Affect a Person’s Life?
According to DSM-5, specific phobias can cause a sufferer distress in social and occupational situations and also other areas of their lives. This is most certainly the case with melophobia. People who suffer from melophobia generally try to avoid situations in which they may be exposed to music.
However, since music is entrenched in our lives, it can be difficult to avoid. Whether you go to the gym, hair salon, coffee shop, movies, or a concert, music is either playing in the background or is the main feature.
The ubiquity of music in everyday life can obviously prove challenging for a person who has melophobia. They may find it difficult or even impossible to go to the mall, take a taxi, attend a function, or visit a friend who likes music. The fact that music is so widespread in most societies can, in worst-case scenarios, even confine sufferers to their homes.
This means that people who suffer from melophobia may find life far more challenging than others who fear less pervasive things or situations, such as spiders, lighting, or heights.
It’s not difficult to imagine the negative impact that the avoidance of all spaces where music may feature can have on a sufferer’s social relationships. In addition, their work lives may also be negatively affected if their avoidance and isolation strategies interfere with work performance. In some cases, sufferers may end up losing their jobs or not being able to find a suitable occupation.
Other Possible Effects of Melophobia
As if social isolation and work problems are not enough to deal with, sufferers of melophobia may develop additional mental illnesses and also health problems.
Since people with melophobia repeatedly avoid exposing themselves to situations where they may hear music, they can, over time, develop an obsessive-compulsion disorder (OCD). This means that the repeated act of avoidance gradually turns into a compulsion. In addition, the effects of the phobia, such as problems in maintaining social relationships or developing a career, can often lead to depression.
As one can imagine, the addition of other mental illnesses to a specific phobia can only make matters worse, with each mental illness feeding into the other and causing a negative spiral.
Besides mental illnesses, specific phobias such as melophobia can also cause a range of physical problems. These can include thyroid problems, cardiac diseases, gastrointestinal issues, arthritic conditions, and migraines.
What Causes Melophobia?
So what lies at the root of melophobia? One wonders why some people develop a condition that is quite alien to the regular behavior of most people. Well, as is the case with most complex conditions, the exact cause of melophobia is unknown. However, multiple hypotheses exist for how this anxiety disorder may develop.
The consensus among most mental health experts is that melophobia can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Apart from the possibility that the phobia can be passed down from generation to generation, mental health professionals have also observed a link between this anxiety disorder and psychological trauma or drug abuse.
For instance, a person may develop a fear of music if they were involved in a bad accident while one of their favorite songs was playing on the radio. In such a case, the music and the event can become entangled in the sufferer’s mind, with the former invariably triggering feelings of fear and horror.
In other cases, the abuse of a psychedelic substance like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms can cause a bad trip and consequent flashbacks of the trip. If music is somehow associated with the negative mental and emotional experience, a person can develop a phobia such as melophobia.
Another interesting hypothesis is that melophobia can have a more physical cause. According to this theory, melophobia can be the result of loud sound waves moving through the middle ear. The latter consists of thin layers of bone, cartilage, muscles, and tendons, which can become strained when exposed to loud sounds. This overextension of the middle ear can, in turn, lead to a fear of music in general.
Symptoms of Melophobia
When humans perceive danger, they undergo an automatic physiological reaction referred to as the fight-or-flight response. When this happens, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, and the body prepares to either flee from danger or stay put and fight.
People with phobias constantly live in fear, which means that their fight-or-flight response is frequently and inappropriately activated. In the case of a phobia, such as melophobia, the response is always to avoid or flee.
When this response is triggered, the sufferer usually experiences multiple physical and mental symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, blurred vision, tense muscles, dry mouth, and dizziness. These physical symptoms are accompanied by intense anxiety, an inability to think clearly, and feelings of helplessness.
An unwelcome side effect of anxiety and depression is insomnia, which in turn can only exacerbate a phobia. A lack of sleep causes all kinds of problems, including lack of energy, unclear thoughts, bad judgment, and physical ailments. In addition, insomnia aggravates anxiety.
While it may seem like a ridiculous notion to people who don’t suffer from mental illness, melophobia is a very real condition that can potentially destroy a sufferer’s life. The question is whether effective treatment for this phobia exists.
As is the case with the causes of melophobia, there are many possible treatments, but none have been proven to specifically cure the phobia. Sufferers can try many different types of treatments that may alleviate the symptoms of the illness. These include:
- Medication: Mental health professionals sometimes prescribe drugs to help patients cope with their condition. Apart from antidepressants, psychiatrists and other practitioners may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs and beta blockers.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): During this type of treatment, a medical professional works with the patient to help them confront their irrational fear. CBT typically involves visualization techniques and exposing the sufferer to music at low volume.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy involves putting a sufferer under hypnosis, which causes a relaxed state of body and mind. During hypnosis, the patient experiences an altered state of awareness, which allows them to explore their subconscious mind.
- Meditation: Meditation, if practiced regularly, can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depression. During meditation, a person can focus their mind and energy on the here and now, as opposed to the past and the future. When the mind is able to access a more creative and relaxed state, healing can take place on multiple levels, including mentally, emotionally, and physically.