What is Polyphobia? (An Overview)

Polyphobia

In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Polyphobia. 

A to Z: List of Phobias, From the Strange to the Common

Fear of many things is called as Polyphobia. Someone suffering from this type of phobia experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli (which is everything in this case). It comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V

An individual with Polyphobia suffers from more than one phobias. The individual is fearful of nearly everything. Upon an encounter with their fear stimuli, one can also undergo panic attacks. They are in a constant worry of an impending doom, which is unidentified.

Polyphobia is somewhat similar to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In this, one becomes anxious of nearly everything. One feels anxiousness even on the thought of getting anxiety. 

The anxiety one suffers, drives them to avoid their fear stimuli, which is many things in the case of Polyphobia. They will for instance, avoid going to crowded places or feel nervous when talking to people. An individual might also escape situations where they encounter rain, darkness or loneliness. 

To make it more simple, people with Polyphobia elude all possible fear causing stimuli which terrify them, these fear stimuli are everything! 

This act of continued avoidance can result in one developing OCD

According to the DSM-V, avoidance also affects one’s social and occupational functioning. For example, a sufferer will avoid coming in contact with people or going to school. They may also resist travelling on an airplane or crossing a bridge.

In general, their avoidance for all possible fear inducing stimuli can lead to the development of depression or other psychotic disorders. This is because, it is almost impossible to escape the anxiety provoking situations or objects, which are many things in the case of Polyphobia. 

Polyphobia is an irrational fear of many things. Someone suffering from this type of phobia can develop many other types of specific phobias. 

Common Phobias And Phobia Treatments | BeatYourFears.com

Symptoms of Polyphobia 

Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Polyphobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom. Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of many things 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 his fear stimuli, 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.

Polyphobia, being the fear of many things is experienced by individuals in different ways. One might be scared of, let say dogs, people, rain and death. Whereas others will be afraid of cats, sun, loneliness and dolls. One might also 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 Polyphobia are:

  • Excessive anxiety when exposed to fear stimuli (many things)
  •  Excessive anxiety when thinking about fear stimuli (many things)
  • Inability to manage anxiety
  • Full-blown panic attacks
  • Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter their fear stimuli 
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Breathlessness 
  • Muscle tension
  •  Nausea 
  • Feelings of dizziness/fainting
  •  Fear of an impending doom
  • Excessive sweating
  •  Tremors
  • Hot/cold flushes 
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  •  Drying up of the mouth 
  • Migraine 
  • Insomnia 
  • Crying/screaming 

For one to be diagnosed with Polyphobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).

Coping with phobias: tips and exercises to cope with specific phobias.

Causes of Polyphobia 

Polyphobia, like all other phobias has no known cause. In this phobia, one experiences more than one phobias or are fearful of almost everything.  

These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning). 

Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body. Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future. This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of ones’ parents is inherited by the child.

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 Polyphobia until and unless there is some trigger event. 

In the case of Polyphobia, a trigger event can be any past traumatic experience one had with the objects or situations they fear. They can also develop some phobias due to a genetic tendency and some because of the experiences they’ve had with certain things. 

One phobia can lead to the onset of another. This chain of cause and effect can be a reason why one develops Polyphobia. 

Thus, Polyphobia has no real cause as to why one develops it. Some suffer from it due to genetics, while others are terrified of everything because of the experiences they’ve had.  

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Treatment of Polyphobia 

Polyphobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other phobias, Polyphobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, 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. Polyphobia is defined as the irrational fear of many things. 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 getting exposed to their fear stimuli. 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.  

• Exposure Therapy 

It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Polyphobia (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 their fear stimuli, 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 that makes him anxious. During this 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 to real objects/situations they fear.   

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, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.

• 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 Polyphobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of 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 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.

• Yoga/Meditation 

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Polyphobia, 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 their fear.

• Drug Therapy 

Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Polyphobia. 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:

  1. 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. 

    ii.   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.

Whether the cause of Polyphobia, 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).

Common Psychological Phobias

Titles to read 

  • Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective 

 by Aaron Beck, Gary Emery, et al.

  • Cognitive Therapy of Anxiety Disorders: Science and Practice  

by David A. Clark and Aaron T. Beck

  • Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World

by Dr. Danny Penman, Danny Penman, et al.

  • The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 minutes a day to less stress, more peace

by Patrizia Collard

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1) How is Polyphobia treated? 

Like all other specific phobias, Polyphobia is treated using a number of cognitive therapies including, CBT, DBT, exposure therapy and medicinal drugs.  

Q2) What is a person suffering from Polyphobia afraid of? 

Polyphobia is the fear of many things. Someone suffering from this type is scared of literally everything. 

Q3) Do I have Polyphobia? 

If someone is experiencing extreme anxiety for at least 6-months accompanied with panic attacks, one might be suffering from Polyphobia. Along with these, one also experiences other physiological symptoms including dizziness, nausea, increased heartbeat etc. 

Q4) How is Polyphobia caused? 

One can have Polyphobia either due to some genetic predisposition (family history) or some environmental factor (past-traumatic event). 

Citations 

  • https://psychtimes.com/polyphobia-fear-of-many-things/
  • www.apa.org 
  • https://psychcentral.com/lib/in-depth-cognitive-behavioral-therapy/
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355162

What is Polyphobia? (An Overview)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.