In this blog we will deliberate about symptoms, causes and treatment of Dendrophobia.
What is Dendrophobia?
An intense fear of trees is known as Dendrophobia. Trees being an essential part of our ecosystem, many see them as a source of happiness and peace. However, people suffering from this type of specific phobia see them as a source of anxiety.
As the DSM-V suggests, the anxiety caused by a specific phobia obstructs ones social and occupational functioning. For instance, someone suffering from Dendrophobia won’t be able to live in places which have many trees. And because trees are found almost everywhere, they might just confine themselves to their houses which can cause them to develop depression.
Some might even have difficulty while walking on a road or driving, which can make going to their jobs challenging for them. Sufferers can’t visit friends or family, because they fear they may come across trees on their way. To them, even the sound of the trees swaying can instigate anxiety, which otherwise is seen as therapeutic. The shadow of trees can also be traumatizing for people with Dendrophobia.
In Dendrophobia, one can have extreme anxiety, not only in the presence of trees but, just the thought of them can make sufferers anxious. In extreme cases, an individual can also have full-blown panic attacks. Though they are not very common, sufferers are likely to have it.
Like in all other specific phobias, people suffering from Dendrophobia will try every possible act to avoid trees. This avoidance, though will produce pleasant feelings in the individual, a feeling that they’re safe, but in the long run it can lead to bigger drawbacks.
This avoidance legitimizes one’s fear of trees (or any fear causing stimuli). It maintains the idea that they (trees) are something to be afraid of and thus, ones’ phobia intensifies.
Dendrophobia is closely related to other specific phobias such as, Nyctophobia (fear of the dark) or Hylophobia (fear of forests) because one might be scared of trees as a result of these phobias.
Dendrophobia is the irrational fear of trees. It drives from the Greek word ‘dendro’ meaning tree and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. Thus, Dendrophobia is a specific phobia, in which one is fearful of trees.
Anxiety is a symptom, common in all specific phobias, including Dendrophobia. People with this irrational fear of trees can become extremely anxious in their presence or by their thought. This might even cause them to have full-blown panic attacks, requiring hospitalization if the condition worsens.
According to the DSM-V, one must have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. In addition to anxiety, one also suffers from a number of different physiological symptoms. Once experience of their fear varies from person to person. This is because individuals process the same stimuli differently, based on their past experiences.
Sufferers try to control their anxious feelings by avoiding trees, which can result in them developing Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
According to the DSM-V, one must experience at least 3-5 of the symptoms listed below to be diagnosed with Dendrophobia, which are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of trees
- Extreme anxiety caused by the thought about trees
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Frequently avoiding trees
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Mouth drying up
Dendrophobia can be a result of either a genetic predisposition or environmental factors.
If someone has a genetic predisposition or a family history of anxiety disorders, they are more likely to develop a specific phobia. This is because they have an inborn tendency to have Dendrophobia, triggered by an environmental factor (Diathesis-stress relationship).
Environmental factors include a past-traumatic event. Someone might develop a fear for trees based on an unpleasant, scary experience they might’ve had. For example, a child might have lost his parents due to a tree falling on them, or he himself must’ve experienced an injury caused by a tree. For instance, tripping over its long roots, getting cut by the sharp trunk or even getting struck by falling branches.
Another reason can be hearing stories about trees. People often are afraid of going near a tree in the dark because of the tales children read in their childhood about dangerous forests, enchanted trees etc. Even the films one sees have stories about how trees can talk or attack someone and the dark powers they hold. Also, the trees are said to be more alive than they actually seem because of the big, long, dark trunks they have.
Someone suffering from Dendrophobia will not only be afraid of going near a tree or watching them in the dark, but their presence in the day will also seem daunting to them and cause extreme anxiety. The very site of trees is unbearable to them, whether day or night.
Their fear is further rekindled by the real life examples of carnivorous plants such as, snap traps which kill their prey (insects or flies) themselves, by the movement of their leaves and chemicals they contain. Sufferers mostly fear that a tree might fall on them because of the number of these incidents are reported on TV when a place is hit by a storm or strong winds.
Therefore, it is evident that there is no one real cause as to why one develops Dendrophobia because every individual perceives their fear of trees in a different way, due to a number of various reasons. However, it is assumed that genetic factors combined with these personal experiences cause Dendrophobia.
Dendrophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Dendrophobia is treated by a number of therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Dendrophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a tree for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he encounters a tree (for example, in garden or forest). During this process of imagery, one actually feels that he’s in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a real tree.
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of pain during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual pain causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to their fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of trees, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Dendrophobia is defined as the irrational fear of pain. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones. The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to trees. The therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Dendrophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Dendrophobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Dendrophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga pose/position. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit for any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about trees.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Dendrophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
These include medicines like Klonopin. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Dendrophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is with using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do
by Alicia H. Clark and Jon Sternfeld
- Anxiety Relief: A Complete Guide to Eliminate Negative Thinking, Stress, Dерrеѕѕiоn, Anger and Panic Attасkѕ
by Elliot Wood and Bill Franchuk
- Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief from Depression, Anger, Anxiety, and More
by Susan Heitler
- The Feeling Good Handbook
by David D. Burns
- Solution Focused Anxiety Management: A Treatment and Training Manual (ISSN)
by Ellen K. Quick
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Why do people have Dendrophobia?
Dendrophobia is a fear of trees. It is caused, either by a past-traumatic event due to which one develops fear or they have a genetic tendency to develop it because of family history of mental disorders.
Q2) Is Dendrophobia treatable?
Yes. Dendrophobia can be treated by a number of different therapies including cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy or Dialectical behavioral therapy. Medicines can also be taken under a doctors’ prescription.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Dendrophobia?
Dendrophobia can be identified by a number of symptoms such as, extreme anxiety, inability to control that anxiety, panic attacks or muscle tension.
Q4) How is Dendrophobia related to the fear of dark?
Both fears are related to each other in the context that, people with Dendrophobia are afraid of seeing or going near the trees at night. Similarly, in the fear of dark, sufferers are fearful of darkness.
However, both are different types of specific phobias and though they might have one similarity, they are not entirely the same.