The words “pandemic” and “panic” share an ancient Greek root word: “pan.” This word refers to a mythic nature god, sometimes associated with wildness and fear.
Pan came to be a kind of universal god of everything. This explains why the words “panophobia” and “pantophobia” came to describe an extreme, wide-ranging fear of everything.
If you have a specific phobia, you feel intense anxiety about a particular object or situation, such as storms or insects. But with pantophobia, you might become extremely anxious about many different things.
Read on to learn more about pantophobia, how it’s identified, and what you can do if you think you may be experiencing it.
The term “pantophobia” isn’t used much anymore in clinical settings. A more current equivalent diagnosis might be generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
- extreme worry
- sudden fright or terror
- physical pain
- loss of color in the face
- racing heartbeat
- tension in the body
As with other phobias, the specific fears are out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the situation. You might, for example, imagine and dread very unlikely possibilities repeatedly throughout the day.
When loved ones leave the house, you might vividly picture all the horrible events that could befall them. And this worry can become so consuming that you can’t focus on your daily tasks and activities.
Living with such intense anxiety can place a lot of stress on your body, your mental health, your relationships, and your career.
Feeling anxious from time to time is a typical experience for most people.
Anxiety can even spike now and then for those who don’t typically feel anxious — especially if something difficult happens to you, like losing a job or getting seriously ill.
Having an anxiety disorder is different. With an anxiety disorder, the anxiety persists even after the initial trigger or stressor goes away or has been addressed.
And the anxiety you feel with an anxiety disorder isn’t just uncomfortable — it can disrupt your life.
If you have a specific phobia, you could be experiencing any of these symptoms when your fear is provoked:
If you have an anxiety disorder, you might also:
- feel overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom
- go to great lengths to avoid situations that cause anxiety
- have a hard time concentrating or relaxing
- startle easily
- have trouble sleeping
- develop headaches, abdominal pain, or chest pain
- feel tired a lot of the time
Researchers aren’t completely certain what causes people to develop a phobia or an anxiety disorder.
Here’s what is known about the causes and risk factors involved:
- Family history plays an important role. Certain genes passed on to you by your parents can make it more likely that you’ll develop an anxiety disorder or phobia.
- Females experience anxiety disorders in higher numbers than men.
- Childhood trauma and childhood abuse increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder or phobia.
Researchers believe that other environmental and economic factors may also contribute to the risk. But more research needs to be done to understand how they influence the development of an anxiety disorder.
Pantophobia can’t be officially diagnosed because it’s not listed as a disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
Instead, a mental health specialist may diagnose someone who experiences pantophobia symptoms with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a panic disorder, or a similar condition listed in the DSM-5.
Health professionals qualified to make such a diagnosis can include:
- psychologist or psychiatrist
- nurse practitioner
- physician assistant
Experiencing phobia symptoms
If you are experiencing symptoms of a phobia or an anxiety disorder, consider talking with a supportive healthcare professional, especially if your symptoms interfere with your health, productivity, or happiness.
At your first appointment, you’ll probably be asked to describe your symptoms and what triggers them. Your physician or therapist may also ask how long you’ve had the symptoms and how they’re affecting your life.
Not everyone knows their family history. But if you’re able to share whether people in your biological family have had similar issues, it may help reach a diagnosis or a clearer understanding of your symptoms.
Treatments can vary depending on whether you’re diagnosed with a specific phobia, general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or another condition.
Anxiety disorders are often treated with a combination of:
- medication to relieve severe anxiety symptoms, including:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to identify and change any unhealthy or unrealistic thought patterns that contribute to your symptoms
- systematic desensitization, a kind of psychotherapy that involves careful, gradual exposure to fears, paired with relaxation training
- eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), in which a therapist guides you through memories of a trauma while instructing you to perform specific eye movements
Many people also find it helpful to incorporate stress-reduction practices into their daily lives, including:
- mindfulness training
- physical activity and exercise
These practices won’t eliminate a phobia or anxiety disorder on their own, but they have been shown to help with symptoms and increase your overall sense of well-being.
Pantophobia refers to a widespread fear of everything.
Pantophobia is no longer an official diagnosis. But people do experience extreme anxiety triggered by many different situations and objects. And these symptoms have often been misunderstood by those who can’t relate to the person’s experience of fear brought on by seemingly everything.
Today these symptoms may instead be diagnosed as general anxiety disorder or panic disorder. This allows more targeted and effective treatment plans with therapies or medication.
With a clear, accurate diagnosis, these targeted treatments can help improve your quality of life and reduce stress in your body and mind.