Perhaps the famous lines by E. M Cioran in his 1964 book ‘The Fall into Time” perfectly summarizes all that a Chronophobic individual goes through. Chronophobia is defined as the persistent and often irrational fear of the future or the fear of passing time. Since time can be considered as a “specific object”, Chronophobia falls under the category of specific phobias. The word Chronophobia is derived from Greek ‘chronos’ meaning time and phobos meaning fear.
Clutch at the moments, as I may…
They elude my grasp…
Each is my enemy…
It rejects me…
Signifying a refusal to become involved…
The question of time has always baffled mankind: many writers, philosophers, scientists, and social critics have tried to research its elusive nature. In case of persistent Chronophobia, the sufferer develops an extreme fear of passing time in that; s/he suddenly feels that the present moment is going to be in the past soon and this thought can terrify him/her. The phobic obsesses over time; s/he is extremely anxious so much so that it affects his/her day-to-day functioning. The phobia mainly affects prison inmates, elderly people or individuals who may already be suffering from various anxiety disorders.
Causes of Chronophobia
The causes of the fear of the future phobia greatly vary from person to person. Most experts believe that a highly stressful or traumatic event can suddenly bring on the phobia.
- Chronophobia, as mentioned above, can come on suddenly – sometimes, even a simple benign comment like “Time moves so fast” can trigger this phobia in a person already suffering from certain anxiety disorders.
- Depression is a major trigger of this phobia. A person might turn 40 and suddenly feel empty: this is the time when the kids usually leave the nest, and one starts feeling empty, useless or feels s/he is not contributing in any way.
- Loss of employment, death of a loved one, divorce or separation can also sometimes trigger Chronophobia.
- With passing time come the afflictions of old age as well as the inevitability of death.
- Women undergoing menopause are more prone to the fear of the future phobia.
- The phobia is also related to adrenal insufficiency, hormonal imbalance, surgery, certain medical conditions like thyroid, heart diseases etc.
- Prison inmates serving for long periods of time are also known to suffer from Chronophobia as they often lose the sense of time and reality. This condition is termed as prison neurosis and it is often accompanied by claustrophobia (owing to the confined space of prison cells.)
- Sometimes, even a traumatic event in one’s childhood can trigger this phobia.
- Chronophobia may also be hereditary or genetic.
Symptoms of Chronophobia
Chronophobia affects different people differently. A young man suffering from this phobia, for example, might suddenly drop out of college where most people his age are busy preparing for their future. Usually, chronophobes undergo various physical and emotional symptoms which include:
- Feeling totally detached from reality
- Having a full blown panic attack at the thought of passing time: breathlessness, heart palpitations and dizziness, fainting, sweating excessively and, in general, feeling completely out of control.
- Feeling lost-not knowing what to do –often embarrassing oneself in front of others.
- Feeling like running away, crying, shaking, or trembling.
- Having overwhelming thoughts of death and dying
- Being unable to express oneself clearly
Treating fear of the future and time
Many self help techniques and specialized treatments are available to help ease the severe anxiety that accompanies Chronophobia. Hypnotherapy is one such therapy which has given positive results and has even been approved by American Medical Association for treating various mental disorders.
Another form of psychotherapy, NLP or Neuro-linguistic programming is a proven therapy for overcoming the fear of the future phobia. An expert practitioner can help the phobic “fix” his/her preconceived notions about time and the future.
Other mind-body techniques to overcome this phobia are Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama (the ancient Hindu practice of deep breathing) and Tai Chi etc. Prisoners who have participated in the Art Of Living/Vipassna courses of guided meditation are known to have greatly benefited from such programs.
Keeping a pet or two is also known to be very therapeutic. Phobics are also urged to lead an active lifestyle as far as possible as this can help boost endorphins or “feel good hormones”. Activities like social work, gardening, teaching, volunteering for social causes, etc can also help one feel ‘more worthwhile’ and get one’s mind off the fear of the future phobia.