Astrophobia is an extreme fear of all things pertaining to outer space. It is usually described as the fear or phobia of stars, fear of celestial bodies, or, in general, of outer space. The word Astrophobia is derived from two Greek words: astro meaning stars, and phobos meaning deep aversion or fear. Astrophobia is often confused with Astraphobia, which is the fear of thunderstorms, lightning, or cloudbursts.
Apart from stars and planets, an Astrophobe can also be afraid of other things related to ‘outer space’ including aliens, space travel, or the moon and sun. Simply the thought of these ‘space objects’ can lead to fearful thoughts about death or dying. The phobic realizes that these thoughts are not rational, but is not able to control it.
Let us dive into it and study Astrophobia in detail.
Causes of Astrophobia
It is very important that you focus on the cause of any phobia rather than its symptoms alone. This way, once you know the cause, you are in a better position to resolve that inner conflict which causes the subsequent phobic behavior or symptoms.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most phobias, there is no single cause behind Astrophobia. Scientists believe that many different factors play a role when it comes to anxiety disorders. The same is the case with Astrophobia. Here are some of the possible causes behind the fear of stars and outer space:
- Like most phobias, this fear may have developed due to a traumatic event in childhood. As a child, one may have seen or heard news reports of astronauts being stranded or dying in space, such as the ‘Apollo 13’ story that adults and kids alike were shocked and saddened by. The Challenger space shuttle disaster was also shown on TV and needless to say, it shocked the world.
- Media plays a huge role in this phobia as well. There are many novels and movies depicting alien invasion which could have exacerbated the fear. The characters in some of these books and movies themselves suffer from Astrophobia. For example, in the movie Gravity, the lone woman astronaut who is the protagonist of the film struggles to reach earth after a storm kills the remaining space shuttle crew and leaves her stranded in space. The character herself says: ‘I hate space’!
- Anxious parents and caregivers can also ‘fill up’ a child’s head with fearful ideas and thoughts. An older sibling may have narrated stories about the vastness and ‘unknown factors’ of space which could lead to the fear.
- Scientists may not agree upon a single cause of the phobia but one thing they do agree on is that ‘phobias are learned behaviors’. An individual learns to be afraid of stars or space and, over time, continues to associate these objects with feelings of insecurity, fear, and even embarrassment of losing control.
- Sometimes, phobias are genetic or hereditary. If your parents were the nervous/anxious types, then you are more likely to develop anxiety disorders too.
- Some people are simply more prone to phobia development and a chemical imbalance may result in such insecurities and anxieties.
Symptoms of Astrophobia
People with Astrophobia will avoid reading about it, or watching movies pertaining to aliens or space. The mere thought of space ships, aliens, stars, and planets could cause a full blown panic attack. Some astrophobes avoid going out at night to avoid stars. Simply imagining space, stars, astronauts, or celestial bodies can trigger the following symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath, tightness of chest
- Hot/cold flashes
- Shaking, trembling, shivering
- Crying, screaming
- Feeling like running away/escaping
- Fear of losing control or embarrassing oneself
- Feeling disconnected with reality
- Nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite
Not everyone understands or sympathizes with the phobic. Most people do not understand that Astrophobia is a very real condition and that the individual really suffers from it. As a result, the phobic may be laughed at or ridiculed. This could cause him/her embarrassment which, in turn, makes him associate that ‘loss of control’ with the objects he/she fears. This becomes a vicious cycle. A phobic might even lose friends or become socially isolated and lonely in severe cases.
Treatment for fear of stars and outer space
The good news for any phobia sufferers is that most phobias can be cured. Sometimes, a single session of therapy is also enough, especially for mild to moderate cases.
To start with: you can use several self-help techniques for treating Astrophobia. Writing down the fears can help. You can write down one positive thought for each fearful/negative thought you encounter. Meditation, deep breathing, and positive visualization are all powerful self-help techniques for overcoming phobias. Reading up about the phobia can also help. Unfortunately, this phobia hasn’t been studied extensively in medical or psychological journals. So, there haven’t been any documented ‘clinical cases’.
If self-help techniques do not show results, speak to a general physician or family doctor, especially if the phobia is affecting your day-to-day life. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist dealing with anxiety disorders.
In general, there are three therapies that have shown great results in treating this kind of phobia. They are cognitive behavior therapy, desensitization, and hypnotherapy.
Cognitive behavior therapy
CBT or cognitive therapy focuses on helping the phobic change their thought patterns. Thus, every time one starts thinking ‘anxious or negative’ thoughts, they learn to challenge those thoughts/feelings/emotions into ‘positive thoughts’.
Desensitization and exposure therapy
A big part of therapy for any phobia is desensitization or gradual exposure. When you learn to confront the object you fear, slowly, over time, your fear diminishes. Such ‘exposure’ is done in a controlled manner and under observation. The phobic may be asked to read about space/stars, draw stars, and eventually step out at nighttime to observe the stars until there is no fear response.
Hypnotherapy works by sending the phobic into a deep state of relaxation until his or her subconscious mind is open to thoughts and suggestions.