In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment for Ergophobia.
What is Ergophobia?
Specific phobias like Ergophobia have a degree of irrationality. The sufferers are unable to explain or justify their feelings of fear or anxiety. In this type of specific phobia, where one fears work or workplace in exact, an individual finds it extremely difficult and daunting to do work at jobs.
Just the mere thought of working or visiting their workplace can induce extreme anxiety to someone suffering Ergophobia. This anxiety, if intensifies can lead to panic attacks, which might need hospitalization.
People with this type of specific phobia also suffer from social anxiety. They are afraid of being socially embarrassed or shouted at by their bosses or authority. Individuals might also feel anxious about the amount of work they have to complete and of the consequences they have to face, if they aren’t able to. To be more specific, sufferers of Ergophobia are fearful of socializing at the workplace.
People who have Ergophobia will not just battle with their fear of not being able to do work or visit their workplace, but they will also be fearful of staying unemployed. Because of the inconsistency they show in terms of the jobs they do, switching them repeatedly or not being able to work at all, due to intense fear. They might also experience anxiety for the fear of poverty.
This way, Ergophobia can lead to other mental disorders such as depression, in the long run. One starts to question their own abilities and lose confidence in themselves.
The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), is a diagnostic tool, used in the diagnosis of Ergophobia (or any other mental disorder).
According to the DSM-V, one can be diagnosed with ergophobia if they have extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months and if this anxiety along with other physical symptoms affects ones social and occupational functioning.
Because one fears of being socially embarrassed by the boss or colleagues, this anxiety affects their relation with the people at their job. Also, because of the frequent switching of jobs, or even leaving them, the sufferers professional life suffers. And they are most likely to do no work, because of the fear of either doing it incorrectly or being humiliated because of it.
Ergophobia is a type of specific phobia, regarded as an irrational fear of work. People with this type of specific phobia undergo extreme anxiety when given some work. They experience abnormally and persistently high levels of anxiety/fear about the workplace, even though they acknowledge that their fear is irrational.
In Ergophobia (including all other specific phobias), anxiety is the most highlighted symptom. Because specific phobias are a part of anxiety disorders, this symptom is found amongst everyone suffering from any type of specific phobia.
As mentioned earlier, panic attacks might follow as a result of extreme anxiety, when the symptoms of the phobia worsen. A patient might also need hospitalization, but this is not very common.
For someone to experience extreme anxiety in Ergophobia, one doesn’t require the physical presence of an object/situation. Just a thought of the fearful stimuli can trigger anxiety and other physiological symptoms, related to this phobia.
Because of the symptoms Ergophobia produces, sufferers find it difficult to maintain one job or even have a job. This can open up the path for other anxiety causing problems, such as debt, losing your house, an unhappy family, divorce or other health related problems for example.
The DSM-V has an exclusive set of examples for Ergophobia, which are the same for all types of specific phobias. These are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when working
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about work
- Unwillingness to take up a single (regular) job
- Inability to control negative thoughts or emotions
- Avoidance of the fear causing stimuli (in the case of Ergophobia, avoidance of doing a job)
- Full-blown Panic attacks
- Dependency on others (for example, for financial help)
- A feeling of being out of touch of reality
- Increase in heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension or fatigue
- Drying up of the mouth
It is not necessary for one to have all of these symptoms if they suffer from Ergophobia. Extreme anxiety is the only symptom that is universal in all types of specific phobias, for all individuals.
Other than this, one can have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety), if they are suffering from Ergophobia.
Specific phobias have two explanations for as to why they are formed. Genetics and environmental. There is no one real cause for an individual to develop Ergophobia. It is claimed that both, genetics and environmental factors have a hug role to play in the development of Ergophobia.
According to the genetic explanation, someone who has a family history of any sort of mental illness is more prone to have Ergophobia in the future as compared to someone who doesn’t. This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop any mental illness.
However, someone who is genetically predisposed or has a family history will not show any symptoms of Ergophobia, until and unless their anxiety is trigged by some traumatic experience.
Here, the environment plays a role in which the individuals suffer from a specific phobia due to some past traumatic experience. For example, as a child, if an individual was abused or repeatedly degraded at work (child labor) or in school by an authority. The child is very likely to develop a fear of work because of the unpleasant experience he has had.
Someone might even develop a fear of work after working in a place for years (as an adult) because of the way they were treated by their colleagues or bosses.
Another reason can be overly critical parents. The repetitive demeaning of children at home upon performing a task or generally making them feel ashamed of themselves, can cause one to develop Ergophobia over a period of time.
On the other hand, one can become fearful of work just by watching some news or documentary for example on TV, or just upon hearing about someone’s bad experience at work. Parents bad work experiences can also mold one’s mind about how the workplace looks like.
Phobias are mainly developed due to bad childhood experiences. This is why, according to a study, 45% of the people who develop Ergophobia (or specific phobias in general) are below the age of 18. The study also found out that females are more prone to have a specific phobia then men.
Ergophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Ergophobia is treated by 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 Ergophobia (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 the workplace 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 is in a workplace. During the process of imagery, one actually feels being 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 or taken to the real setting of a workplace.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli 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 fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the 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 work, by being exposed 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. Ergophobia is defined as the irrational fear of work. 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 a work setting. 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 Ergophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Ergophobia. 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/fearful aspects to it.
• 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’ yoga and meditation 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Ergophobia, 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 calmer, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts. Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from 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 work.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ergophobia. 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
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 Ergophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read from
- Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters
by Jon Acuff and The Lampo Group
- Mastering Fear: Harnessing Emotion to Achieve Excellence in Work, Health and Relationships
by Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford
- Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic
by Reneau Peurifoy
- Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety and Phobia
by Barbara G. Markway, C. Alec Pollard, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Do I have Ergophobia?
The symptoms of Ergophobia, which is an irrational fear of work can be extreme anxiety, increased heartbeat, panic attacks, breathlessness etc.
Q2) How do I overcome my fear of Ergophobia?
One can overcome his fear of work by consulting a doctor and undergoing treatments like CBT, Exposure Therapy and or medication prescribed by the health professional.
Q3) Is work anxiety a thing?
Having anxiety about work or anything else is very common amongst people and is not an indication of a specific phobia. Though, anxiety generally is not good for health. However, if one has extreme anxiety which can lead to panic attacks, then the person Is said to have a specific phobia.
Q4) What causes Ergophobia?
Ergophobia is caused by a genetic predisposition or ones past traumatic events.