Phobophobia is the fear of fear.

It is probably quite normal to be afraid of fear because fear is an unpleasant sensation. These unpleasant sensations can be broken down into two categories. These are;

– fear of the mental sensations and thoughts associated with fear

– fear of the physical symptoms, that is to say physical tension and the many other physical manifestations of the fight and flight reflex.

The physical symptoms and possibly the mental symptoms as well for unpleasant for two reasons;

– they can interfere with functioning

– they are also unpleasant in themselves.

It is quite easy to see how the fear of fear can generate further fear and physical symptoms and that this can create a vicious circle of anxiety. However anxiety is quite a general word what does it really mean?

I think that anxiety is more than fear, it is also frustration and is closely related to feelings of depression when it goes on for any length of time.

The constant repetition of anxiety probably leads to a conditioning effect where one learns to be afraid in certain situations. Some people have a general state of anxiety which may be referred to as generalised anxiety disorder. I think that this could also be referred to as phobophobia or the fear of fear.

(Another possible factor is something that is a bit similar to synthaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. The phenomenon that I am referring to is where a pleasant emotion leads to anxiety.  I am not sure whether this is because of the fear of fear, i.e. thinking ‘what if something is going to spoil this pleasant experience’ and then being aware of the worrying thought which then triggers a further thought of being worried about being worried. Alternatively it could be a genuine kind of synaesthesia where the nervous system is confusing feelings of pleasure with those of anxiety because the mechanism bears some similarities e.g. it is possible to feel a sense of negative anticipation or anxiety as a tightening of the chest in a similar location and sensation to a feeling of positive anticipation or pleasure).

Phobophobia is caused by:

i) Emotions: Worry – Worry causes Anticipation which causes tension which causes more worry.

Frustration – frustration triggers tension and constant frustration can lead to feelings of depression which also generate more anxiety.

ii) Physical tension and Disrupted Breathing (hyperventilation) which in turn produces more anxiety

iii) – Self-fulfilling prophecy – worrying about symptoms can produce them

iv) Conditioning – the physical anxiety symptoms appear more easily and rapidly under the influence of certain triggers for stress or other cues.

v) – Reduced functioning which causes more worry and frustration.

vi) This process then causes psychological changes which contribute to the vicious circle process, these include:

– A sense of lack of control

– A loss of confidence in one’s thoughts and one’s mind which can cause or exacerbate a more pervasive lack of self esteem