Most of us enjoy the bright colors and the pleasant smell of flowers. But for a small group of people who live with anthophobia, the sight or even thought of flowers can cause extreme fear, anxiety, and panic.

Anthophobia is a type of phobia that results in a persistent and intense fear of flowers. “People who struggle with this may fear all flowers or only specific types of flowers,” says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.

Phobias can manifest in a variety of ways and often look like a constant, unrealistic, and excessive fear about a person, situation, animal, object, or, as with anthophobia, flowers. Frequently, these fears are irrational, which makes it a phobia.

The fear associated with a phobia is much more significant and debilitating than that caused by less acute stress or anxiety. “Many people with phobias such as this one will go through great lengths to avoid the things they fear — in this case, flowers,” she says.

Specific phobias are actually quite common. In fact, an estimated 12.5 percent of Americans will experience a specific phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Unfortunately, when left untreated, phobias can disrupt daily routines.

The most common symptom of anthophobia, says Hafeez, is an anxiety or panic attack whenever the person sees or thinks about flowers. Phobias, in general, may cause you to feel a sense of impending doom and complete powerlessness over the situation.

If you have a fear of flowers, you may feel or experience any of the following symptoms:

  • panic and fear, which is often excessive, persistent, and unreasonable urge or strong desire to get away from the triggering event, person, or object
  • sweaty palms
  • racing heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • shivering
  • shortness of breath
  • shaking

Similar to other phobias, anthophobia often originates from an event — most likely traumatic — or person involving flowers. Hafeez says this intense fear of flowers is often a learned experience. “You are not born with anthophobia, and it is not a genetic disorder; however, the tendency to develop specific phobia is known to run in families, though it is unclear if it is due to genetic factors, learned behavior, or both,” she explains.

When it comes to experiences, Hafeez says someone might develop anthophobia after repeated adverse events related to flowers such as an insect sting from a bee or wasp, especially if the person is allergic to the insect. When this happens, Hafeez says the experience can create negative thinking patterns in the brain.

Another possible cause, she says, is the association between flowers and loss. This loss might involve another person or pet. If flowers were part of the grieving process, you might develop an extreme fear of flowers after experiencing trauma related to loss.

It may also be related to allergies caused by flowers. But in some cases, the causes of anthophobia are inexplicable. “A person might develop a fear of flowers, but then forget why they have it,” she explains.

Anthophobia needs to be diagnosed by a trained mental health professional who can also develop a treatment plan by evaluating the intensity of the fear and the adverse effects the phobia has on your everyday life.

According to Hafeez, the patient’s psychological and physical symptoms, triggers, avoidance, and coping behaviors, family history, and other relevant considerations will be assessed, which will help determine the individualized treatment plan, as no two patients are the same.

Since anthophobia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), 5th ed., as an official diagnosis, your mental health professional will likely consider the diagnostic criteria for specific phobia, or a fear of a specific object or situation. According to the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5, there are five different types of specific phobias including:

  • animal type
  • natural environment type
  • blood-injection-injury type
  • situational type
  • other types

Your therapist will recommend a variety of treatment options for anthophobia that may include psychotherapy, medication, support groups, or a combination of all three.

Psychotherapy is often the first line of defense, with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, or a combination of the two being the top picks.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the goal of exposure therapy is to help you confront your fears related to flowers. If your therapist chooses this form of treatment, they will first ensure you are in a safe environment. Then, in a slow and methodical fashion, they will expose you to flowers — more specifically, the flowers you fear the most — while developing strategies to minimize or eliminate the fear completely.

With cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment involves efforts to change thinking patterns. Your therapist will help you identify distorted thinking and its role in creating problems. The goal of CBT is to learn new ways to cope with the fears and eventually change or eliminate negative thinking and behaviors.

In addition to psychotherapy, your mental health professional may recommend medications to treat anthophobia or other conditions like anxiety and depression.

Finding help for anthophobia

There are many psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists trained to work with phobias. Together, you can develop a treatment plan that may include psychotherapy, medication, or support groups.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few links to help you locate a therapist in your area that can treat phobias:

The outlook for people with anthophobia is positive, provided they receive proper treatment from a qualified mental health professional. In addition to relief from symptoms related to anthophobia, getting treatment could help reduce other health conditions and physical disease as well.

A 2016 study found that people with a specific phobia have an increased probability for specific physical diseases such as heart, vascular, cardiac, and respiratory disease.

While rare, phobias like anthophobia can interfere with your day-to-day life. If you notice anxiety, fear, or panic when you’re near flowers, it might be time to talk with a mental health expert who can diagnose and treat this phobia.