Specific phobias are severe, intense panic responses from your body that are triggered by a specific thing, animal, person, or idea.
One specific phobia is the fear of fear itself — known as phobophobia. Having phobophobia can cause you to experience some of the same symptoms that other phobias trigger.
Explaining to a doctor or caregivers that you’re afraid of fear can feel intimidating. But phobophobia can be diagnosed and successfully treated just like other types of phobias.
Let’s take a look at what we know about phobophobia and what you should do if you think you might have it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address that “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” when addressing the looming economic crisis of the 1930s.
But the clinical fear of fear is a very real phobia that can impact people’s day-to-day decision-making.
Phobophobia is less straightforward than other phobias because you’re afraid of fear itself. This adds an additional level of complexity to anything you’re already naturally afraid of because you’re afraid of the fear you feel toward it.
If you’ve ever had a severe, fear-based reaction that caused you to vomit or struggle to breathe, you may become afraid of triggering that reaction again.
Avoiding all possible triggers because of how afraid you are of your body’s panic response is one example of phobophobic behavior.
The symptoms of phobophobia are similar to the symptoms of other specific phobias, including:
- chest pain or tightness
- difficulty breathing
- feeling weak or dizzy
- intrusive thoughts
Phobophobia is not the same as panic disorder or generalized anxiety.
People who have generalized anxiety tend to feel their anxious thoughts and physical symptoms slowly build, sometimes (but not always) resulting in a panic attack.
People with panic disorder have intense panic attacks that are triggered because your body becomes certain that physical danger is imminent, even when it is not.
Phobophobia symptoms are different. You may consciously know it’s not rational to feel extremely afraid of your fear, but you can’t stop your body from experiencing this reaction.
You may experience phobophobia by itself or in addition to panic attacks and generalized anxiety.
Each individual case of phobophobia is unique.
For example, you may have been raised in a household where a caregiver experienced an intense phobia, and their experience made an impression on you, causing you to be afraid of experiencing that fear for yourself.
You may have inherited your phobophobia from your parents. There is
Once you have experienced a powerful panic response, your brain may develop a negative connotation associated with the experience of those feelings. Your body and your brain then begin to work together to avoid that fight-or-flight, panicked response.
Focusing on avoiding these symptoms of established anxiety or phobia can also develop into phobophobia, where you are so afraid of having the phobia response that the fear triggers the response you’re trying to avoid.
Unless your symptoms are so severe that they impact your daily life, you may choose to live with phobophobia without any sort of formal diagnosis.
Getting a diagnosis can help you come up with a treatment plan.
There’s no “official” test that will determine whether you qualify for a specific phobia diagnosis. But the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a self-screening tool that you can use to get started with a specific phobia diagnosis.
If you’re interested in treating your phobophobia, you can talk to a doctor about your triggers and your symptoms.
Your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist. This specialist will then ask you questions about:
- how long you have been experiencing symptoms
- your family history with anxiety and phobias
- other questions about your mental health
The answers to these questions will form the basis of your diagnosis and become the foundation of treatments that you start for phobophobia.
Here are some of the possible treatments for phobophobia.
The first line of treatment for phobophobia (and all specific phobias) is usually behavior therapy.
Exposure therapy focuses on gradual exposure to the thing that you fear. This can be tricky when the thing you fear is fear itself, but it is possible, according to
Medication is not typically used for long-term treatment phobophobia or any phobia.
Lifestyle changes can be a way to supplement professional treatment of your phobia. Try one or more of the following:
- getting active
- spending time outside
- practicing yoga
Fear of fear is a real condition, it can impact your life as much any other types of phobia or anxiety.
Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of phobophobia is similar to other specific phobias. Phobophobia treatment may include exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. In many cases, it’s possible to manage your symptoms so that they don’t interfere with the life you want to lead.