In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Phasmophobia.
An intense, irrational fear of ghosts is called as Phasmophobia. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. Sufferers experience extreme anxiety when they think they’re around ghosts. One can have full-blown panic attacks when the anxiety intensifies.
Parapsychology is a branch of science which focuses on paranormal activities. Phasmophobia can be said to come under it.
Ghosts and supernatural things are not ‘real’. People assume them to be, based on their backgrounds and past experiences. Thus, this fear of ghosts is irrational because ghosts are not a potential threat to someone who doesn’t believe in their existence. Whereas, an individual who suffers from Phasmophobia can become extremely terrified when the feel they are around ghosts, because they believe them to be real.
In Phasmophobia, one takes all the necessary precautions they feel are mandatory for them to avoid any encounter with ghosts. These acts of repeated avoidance can lead to the development of OCD.
As the DSM-V suggests, these acts of avoidance, one does to lower their anxiety can affect ones social and occupational functioning. For example, people who suffer from Phasmophobia are unable to live or sleep alone. They need a constant presence of someone else around them in order to feel safe. This can also cause one to develop Autophobia.
They might not even visit certain places or homes which they assume have ghosts. One might not even go to a certain room in their own house which they think have ghosts. They self-isolate themselves and can develop depression.
Someone suffering from Phasmophobia will avoid going to their job if they feel the place is haunted. Or, one will avoid going out of the house at night, either due to their job or to attend some function. Sufferers can also experience sleepless nights which can lead to other physiological symptoms.
Whatever the case is, these acts of avoidance maintain ones’ phobia.
Phasmophobia is the irrational, abnormal fear of ghosts. One undergoes extreme anxiety upon the mention of super natural things (ghosts, vampires etc.).
Symptoms of Phasmophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Phasmophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom. Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of ghosts suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heartrate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around ghosts, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations. They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Because this fear of ghosts is about something which is not physically present or seen and is highly subjective, sufferers of Phasmophobia experience symptoms in different ways. One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia. Though, as the DSM-5 suggest, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Phasmophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when they assume they’re exposed to ghosts
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about ghosts
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter a ghost
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flushes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Phasmophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Phasmophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Phasmophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Phasmophobia than someone who doesn’t. This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
Genes and neurotransmitters also play a significant role in this genetic predisposition.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship. According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Phasmophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of ghosts.
Other phobias can also lead to Phasmophobia. Achluphobia (fear of darkness), Nyctophobia (fear of night time) can either cause Phasmophobia or vice versa.
Other than genetics, a trigger event that causes Phasmophobia can be a traumatic childhood experience. For example, someone might have encountered a ghost as a child and developed its fear since then. Or, they might’ve heard someone experiencing an encounter with ghosts.
An individual who lost his loved one and were attached to them, might hallucinate or feel their presence. This feeling of presence can induce anxiety and lead to Phasmophobia.
Religions like Christianity or Judaism believe in the existence of supernatural beings. Thus, children who belong to these households are taught to believe in ghosts or angels. And because ghosts are associated with evilness and harm, children develop Phasmophobia.
Also, horror movies depict ghosts as ‘vicious’ and the audience perceives this as real. Thus they develop Phasmophobia.
Thus, Phasmophobia is caused by both, genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Phasmophobia
Phasmophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Phasmophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Phasmophobia is defined as the irrational fear of ghosts. 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 seeing a ghost. 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.
• 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 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.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Phasmophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months 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 sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Phasmophobia, 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 the person is in a particular yoga posture. 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 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 ghosts.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Phasmophobia. 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. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Paxil 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.
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Phasmophobia, 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
- Science of Yoga: Understand the Anatomy and Physiology to Perfect your Practice
by Ann Swanson
- Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations for Finding Peace in the Everyday
by Matthew Sockolov, Daniel Henning, et al.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry
by Seth J Gillihan PhD
- Conquer Anxiety Workbook for Teens: Find Peace from Worry, Panic, Fear, and Phobias
by PhD Tabatha Chansard
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Do I have Phasmophobia?
Being fearful of ghosts or supernatural things is normal, if one believes in their existence. However, if someone has Phasmophobia, they suffer from extreme levels of anxiety which leads to panic attacks when they think about ghosts. This fear is completely irrational. If someone suffers from other physiological symptoms (along with anxiety) such as dizziness, nausea and rapid heartbeat when thinking about ghosts, the person is suffering from Phasmophobia.
Q2) Is Phasmophobia treatable?
Yes. Phasmophobia, like all other specific phobias can be treated using a number of psychotherapies. These therapies include Cognitive-behavioral therapy, Dialectical Behavior therapy. One can also be prescribed with anti-anxiety drugs to maximize the effects of these cognitive procedures.
Q3) What causes Phasmophobia?
Phasmophobia, the irrational fear of ghosts is caused if someone has a genetic predisposition for developing specific phobias. They can also develop this phobia if they experience some fear triggering event, such as a past traumatic incident.
Q4) Is Demonophobia similar to Phasmophobia?
Yes. They both are specific phobias of supernatural beings, things which are perceive to be unreal for others but real for the ones suffering from this type of phobia. They are also similar in their etiologies, symptoms and the way they are treated. At times, the cause of both phobias can be the same too. And one suffering from Demonophobia can also suffer from Phasmophobia and vice versa.