Cyanophobia, fear of the color blue, is a subtype of the anxiety disorder chromophobia. People with chromophobia experience intense anxiety when they see one or more particular colors. Fear of one or two colors is the most common version of the disorder.
Of all the phobias in the world, any type of chromophobia, including cyanophobia, is one of the rarer ones.
People who have cyanophobia usually develop the phobia by the age of 10.
What Causes Cyanophobia?
It isn’t clear what causes cyanophobia. Some possible causes are factors accepted as causes of phobias in general. These include trauma or negative experiences, genetics or environment, and changes in brain functioning.
Trauma or Negative Experiences
Having a traumatic or negative experience with something can naturally lead to developing a fear of it. Though this type of fear won’t always reach the severity of a phobia, sometimes it will.
The origins of a person’s cyanophobia can sometimes be traced back to a frightening and/or painful experience they had in the past. If the traumatic experience involved the color blue in some way, the person might re-experience feelings of fear or pain whenever they see the color now. Or the sight of the color may trigger anxiety because of the association.
In addition to first-hand experience, it’s been suggested that learning about traumatic or negative experiences of others may lead to the development of a phobia.
People with a family history of phobias are more likely to have phobias, including cyanophobia or other forms of chromophobia. Scientists don’t know if this is because there is a genetic component to phobias or because phobias can be learned. For example, a child whose parent often talks about being frightened of blue things may learn to believe that blue things are dangerous.
Changes in Brain Functioning
Neuroimaging studies show variations in the amygdala (the part of the brain usually associated with emotions, especially fear) in people who suffer from phobias and other anxiety disorders. Research shows that not all phobias are “experiential” or based on experience. This leads some scientists to consider that some phobias may come from innate differences in the brain.
One thing scientists do know is that cyanophobia, like other phobias, is more prevalent in people with certain other conditions. Having a mood disorder like anxiety or depression, mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic spectrum disorder (PTSD), all increase a person’s likelihood of developing cyanophobia. Having a family member with cyanophobia is also a risk factor.
Culture can play a part too. Colors often have symbolic meanings that vary by culture. For example, many people in the U.S. associate green with nature, red and pink with romantic love, and yellow with happiness. In Chinese culture, the color red is widely considered symbolic of good fortune, success, and happiness. In many cultures, black is associated with death, funeral rites, and mourning. For people with cyanophobia, seeing the color blue may cause them to think of the meaning they associate with the color and feel anxious in response. And that meaning may be influenced by what many in their culture believe blue means.
Meanings of the Color Blue
Across cultures, blue has more meanings attributed to it than any other color:
- U.S. – Sadness (as in “getting the blues”), masculinity, trust or security, authority, and tranquility
- China – Femininity
- Latin America – Hope and health
- Middle East – Safety or protection and spirituality
- Judaism – Divinity or holiness
- Hinduism – The god Krishna, joy and love
- Catholicism – The Virgin Mary
Symptoms of Cyanophobia
Symptoms will vary from person to person. Cyanophobia can manifest in both psychological and physical ways.
In someone with cyanophobia, the color blue may trigger feelings or thoughts of:
- Guilt or shame
- Urge to withdraw from others
- Alienation from others
- Fear of dying
- Fear of illness
- Fear of losing control of oneself
A person who has cyanophobia may experience one or more of these physical reactions when exposed to the color blue:
- Disorientation or confusion
- Shaking or trembling
- Hot flushes
- Shortness of breath
- Choking sensation
- Heart palpitations
- Increase in blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Ringing in ears
Cyanophobia should only be diagnosed by a qualified professional – usually a licensed mental health care provider. Before diagnosing someone with cyanophobia, a provider will ask them a series of questions about their symptoms. They will then use their answers to determine whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia in the Fifth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Basically, the provider is looking to see if:
- The person starts having symptoms right away as soon as they see the color blue.
- Their fear of the color blue is much more intense than the actual danger the color poses to them.
- They are going out of their way to avoid the color blue.
- Their fear, anxiety, or avoidance of the color blue is harming them.
- Their fear, anxiety, or avoidance of the color blue has lasted for at least 6 months.
- Another mental disorder is more likely to be the cause of their symptoms.
It’s important to remember that fears are a component of many conditions and that there is a difference between fear and phobia.
Some psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia, can cause fears that look like phobias but are actually quite different. With psychotic disorders, the person generally believes their fear is rational. With phobias, the person knows their fear is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the thing they are afraid of.
Some people with autism spectrum disorder experience hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli. This can result in them having strong aversions to bright lights, particular sounds, specific foods, or certain colors. Some people with autism may feel physically ill when they look at the color blue, and because of this, they may go to great lengths to avoid it. In this case, the fear of blue is not cyanophobia because the symptoms are caused by hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli rather than anxiety. Also, their avoidance of the color is not necessarily out of proportion to the threat posed.
Once the provider makes a diagnosis, they should be able to offer treatment options.
There are many different ways to treat cyanophobia. These include:
With exposure therapy, a practitioner will begin by exposing the person to a small amount of the color blue for a very short period of time. They will also teach the person relaxation techniques to help them minimize and cope with their anxiety symptoms during exposure. Over time, the practitioner will increase the amount of blue and the length of time. This enables the person to gradually build the capability to tolerate seeing the color.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that works to change underlying thought patterns, giving the person more control over the feelings that stem from their thoughts. An important part of CBT is recognizing cognitive distortions or false beliefs and overcoming them. For people with cyanophobia, learning to think differently about the color blue can reduce the symptoms they tend to experience when they see it.
Mindfulness training teaches techniques like meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing. A person with cyanophobia may be able to use these tactics to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
Hypnotherapy works to put the patient in a state of deep relaxation and concentration, where they may be more receptive to new ways of thinking. The hypnotherapist then offers suggestions that may help the patient to change the way they think about their fear.
Providers sometimes prescribe medications like antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety drugs to help patients manage the symptoms of cyanophobia.
Getting relief from symptoms of cyanophobia can take time, but it is definitely possible. The treatment method (or methods) that works best will vary from person to person, so it may be necessary to try several different approaches before making a choice. The length of time treatment takes also varies by individual.