What Is Atychiphobia and How Can You Manage Fear of Failure?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on December 13, 2017Written by Ashley Marcin on December 13, 2017

Overview

Phobias are irrational fears related to specific objects or situations. If you experience atychiphobia, you have an irrational and persistent fear of failing.

Fear of failure may be part of another mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or eating disorder. You may also deal with atychiphobia at times throughout your life if you’re a perfectionist.

Symptoms

Not everyone will experience this type of fear in the same way. The severity runs along a spectrum from mild to extreme. Phobias like atychiphobia can be so extreme that they completely paralyze you, making it difficult to carry on with your tasks at home, school, or work. You may even miss out on important opportunities in your life, both personally and professionally.

The other symptoms you may experience with atychiphobia are similar to those you’d experience with other phobias. They may be physical or emotional in nature, and they are likely triggered most when you think about certain situations in which you may fail. In some cases, your symptoms may seem to come out of nowhere at all.

Physical symptoms may include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • unusually fast heart rate
  • tightness or pain in your chest
  • trembling or shaking sensations
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • digestive distress
  • hot or cold flashes
  • sweating

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • intense feeling of panic or anxiety
  • overwhelming need to escape a situation that produces the fear
  • feeling detached from yourself
  • feeling like you’ve lost control over a situation
  • thinking that you may die or pass out
  • generally feeling powerless over your fear

Self-handicapping is another possibility when you have atychiphobia. This means that you are so afraid of failing that you actually sabotage your efforts. As an example, you may simply not start a big project for school, ultimately failing as a result. The idea here is that it’s better to fail by not starting than to fail after putting in a lot of effort.

Risk factors

It may be difficult to pinpoint exactly why you’re experiencing a fear of failure. There are various risk factors associated with developing phobias. In general, you may be more likely to develop atychiphobia if:

  • you have past experiences where you’ve failed, especially if the experiences were traumatic or had important consequences, like missing out on an important job
  • you’ve learned to fear failing through different situations
  • you’re a perfectionist

There’s also the possibility that watching someone else fail has contributed to your phobia. This situation is called “observational learning experience.” For example, if you grew up with a caregiver who was afraid of failing, it may make you more likely to feel the same.

You may even develop fear after reading or hearing about someone else’s experience. This is called “informational learning.”

Some people may be more susceptible to fears due to their genetics. Not much is understood about genetics related to fear, but different biological changes might happen in the brain and body in response to feared stimuli.

Specific phobias can affect both adults and children. While it’s possible for children to experience atychiphobia, irrational fears at young ages typically revolve around things like strangers, loud noises, monsters, and darkness. Older children, ages 7 to 16, have more reality-based fears and are more likely to experience fear of failure related to things like school performance.

Diagnosis

If your fear of failing is severe enough that it has started to impact your daily life, you may have atychiphobia. A doctor can help diagnose this phobia and suggest treatments to help.

At your appointment, your doctor may ask you questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. They may also ask about your psychiatric and social history before using different criteria to make a formal diagnosis.

In order to be diagnosed with a phobia, you must have had symptoms for six months or longer.

Other criteria include:

  • excessive anticipation of situations that bring on fear
  • immediate fear response or panic attack to situations that bring on fear
  • self-recognition that the fear is severe and irrational
  • avoidance of the situations and objects that may bring on anxiety

Treatment

Treatment for phobias like atychiphobia is individual to each person. In general, the main goal of treatment is to improve your quality of life. If you have multiple phobias, your doctor will likely treat them one at a time.

Treatment options may include one or a combination of the following:

Psychotherapy

Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for psychotherapy. Exposure therapy involves gradual but repeated exposure to the things you fear in hopes of changing your response to those situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves exposure and other tools to help you deal with your fear of failure. Your doctor may recommend one of these therapies or a combination.

Medication

Psychotherapy is often effective in itself, but there are medications that may help. Medications are generally used as a short-term solution for anxiety and panic related to specific situations.

With atychiphobia, this may mean taking medication before public speaking or an important meeting. Beta blockers are medications that block adrenaline from elevating your heart rate, raising blood pressure, and making your body shake. Sedatives reduce anxiety so you may relax.

Lifestyle changes

Learning different mindfulness exercises may help you deal with anxiety or avoidance related to your fear of failure. Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or yoga, can also be effective. Regular exercise is also a good way to manage your anxiety in the long term.

Outlook

You may be able to overcome mild atychiphobia on your own through lifestyle changes. If your fear of failure is extreme and causing you to miss out on many opportunities in your life, consider making an appointment with your doctor. There are a variety of treatment options available, and therapy tends to be more effective the sooner you start it.

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