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Illustration by Brittany England

Phasmophobia is an intense fear of ghosts. For people with a ghost phobia, the mere mention of supernatural things — ghosts, witches, vampires — can be enough to evoke the irrational fear. Other times, a movie or TV show might be responsible.

Recollections or imagined scenarios may be all that’s needed to generate the severe anxiety or absolute terror that is associated with a ghost phobia, too.

Read on to find out if your dread of a scary movie, empty house, or Halloween decoration is a normal level of fear or dislike, or if it’s a genuine phobia.

Many children experience a fear of ghosts or otherworldly beings from a young age. For many, those fears and anxieties will disappear as they move into adolescence. But for others, the fear remains. It may even worsen into a chronic and potentially debilitating phobia.

Causes

It’s unclear why phobias of any type develop. Some people with a genetic predisposition to anxiety have an increased risk of developing a phobia. Trauma or distressing life events may set the stage for future phobias. For others, it may develop independently.

Effects

People with a phobia of ghosts frequently report sensing a presence when they’re alone. Tiny noises turn into proof positive that their fears are founded. They may even get the distinct impression that they’re being watched or are moments away from a confrontation with a supernatural being.

The sense of dread may be so severe it leaves them unable to move or perform necessary functions. Getting up to go to the bathroom or even falling asleep may be too difficult or provoke too much anxiety.

Contributing phobias

Other phobias, such as a fear of being alone (autophobia), may actually play into developing phasmophobia. Research suggests people who have intense fears of being alone, especially at night or when sleeping, may likewise have a fear of these ghostly presences.

It isn’t clear if the fear of ghosts comes first or if it develops as a result of an existing fear of the darkness and nighttime.

People with a fear of ghosts my experience symptoms, such as:

  • panic attacks
  • difficulty sleeping alone
  • intense anxiety
  • intense sense of dread or impending doom
  • not going to the bathroom at night
  • avoiding being alone
  • daytime drowsiness (from lack of sleep)
  • drop in productivity (from lack of sleep)

A panic attack is the most common symptom of a phobia. It’s immensely disabling, as it often interrupts and stops a person’s daily life. However, you can have a true phobia and not have panic attacks. Other symptoms may be present and debilitating enough for a diagnosis.

People with this phobia may begin to develop rituals, or activities they do in an attempt to avoid or “ward off” ghosts they might encounter.

If these rituals become compulsive — that is, you cannot carry on your normal activities unless you do these measures first — you may be developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

A fear of ghosts isn’t just a problem for Halloween night or when walking the dark streets of an old city. Actually, a fear of ghosts can pop into your daily life at any point, rendering you too nervous or anxious to continue on with your daily activities. You may have a ghost phobia if you:

Can’t be left alone

People with phasmophobia may be entirely too uncomfortable or anxious to be left at home or in the office alone, especially at night. Sleeping alone in a house overnight is likely entirely out of the question. Likewise, traveling for work — and being alone in a hotel room — may also be problematic.

Avoid dark spaces in home

You may think a fear of monsters under the bed passes as children transition into their adolescent years — and for many, it does — but people with this phobia may fear:

  • dark closets
  • dark rooms
  • dark windows
  • dark spaces under furniture

Recall fearful images

People with this phobia may know to avoid scary movies, but if they accidentally see something — a movie trailer, perhaps — or are made to watch it for some reason, the images from the movie may replay in their mind again and again. This will increase anxiety and symptoms.

Likewise, reading scary stories or researching supernatural activities may trigger the phobia.

Experience sleep loss

Because nighttime often heightens the sense of dread and worry for people with a fear of ghosts, sleep may be nearly impossible. This is especially true if you’re alone. Ultimately, this can lead to sleep deprivation, daytime sleepiness, and a drop in productivity at work.

When there is one fear, there may be other phobias.

For example, people with a fear of ghosts or other supernatural beings (phasmophobia) may also have an intense fear of being alone (autophobia). Another person’s presence is comforting and invites a sense of security.

Many people with a fear of ghosts are also irrationally fearful of nighttime (nyctophobia) or darkness (achluophobia). Akin to ghosts, shadows can also cause intense fears (sciophobia).

Many people may develop a fear of ghosts after the death of a loved one, so the idea of being around death or dead things may also cause intense anxiety (necrophobia).

Of course, ghosts are a common Halloween theme, and the association with ghosts may also cause a fear of witches (wiccaphobia) or vampires (sanguivoriphobia). If all Halloween decorations are too much, you may have samhainophobia, or fear of Halloween.

Treatment for phasmophobia falls into two categories: therapeutic techniques and medicine. Some doctors may use one, the other, or a combination.

Medication for phobias

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can ease the emotional and irrational reaction you have to fear. These may also help stop or limit the physical reactions, such as a racing heart or nausea.

These medicines are effective and may reduce symptoms quickly. Indeed, research suggests some people do not realize how effective this treatment can be until they’re prescribed the medicines for another issue, such as depression. Both symptoms of the phobia and the second condition may be resolved.

Therapy for phobias

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common therapy treatment for phobias, including phasmophobia. A mental health specialist will work with you to understand the source of your fear and then help you develop coping mechanisms you can deploy when you sense the fear rising.

People report experiencing shame because of this fear of ghosts. Some even say they know the phobia is irrational.

It’s important to know that phasmophobia is real. With help, you can overcome it.

If you experience intense fear when you’re alone because you think you will encounter a ghost, or if you have difficulty sleeping because of images playing over and over in your head, it’s time to see your doctor.

These symptoms produce intense fear and anxiety. They may impact your daily life and prevent you from getting sleep. It’s an important first step in figuring out what’s causing your difficulties and what can be done to end them.

A fear of ghosts is not silly or foolish. Indeed, phobias are real, and the impact they can have on your health and life are serious.

Overcoming a phobia can be difficult. It will likely take work with a mental health professional, but you can overcome it. You can learn to manage the fear, live with the symptoms, and have the productive life you deserve.