Coulrophobia (Fear of Clowns)
Coulrophobia is the irrational fear of clowns. People who experience this mental disorder will have a very difficult time seeing depictions of clowns in the media or even thinking of them. Doing so will give them extreme amounts of anxiety that may even cause them to experience panic attacks. There are hundreds of different phobias that exist, and coulrophobia is among one of the most common.
Hollywood has wasted no time cashing in on such a common fear by making movie after movie about killer clowns, as well as references to coulrophobia in countless movies and T.V. shows. One of the most popular movies of this sub-genre of horror films was Steven King’s 1990 film “It”. The movie starred a killer clown by the name of Pennywise who ruthlessly murdered innocent children. Though this movie was beloved by many horror film addicts, it may have also struck intense fear and dread in those who never looked at clowns in such a dark and menacing way before.
This may be part of why people with coulrophobia have such a difficult time coping with their fear of clowns, seeing as how they are typically depicted as innocent, trustworthy, and fun. Throughout the early 1900’s, clowns were a big reason why people went to the circus as they were often a big hit with children. Clowns were often hired to perform at children’s birthday parties also as they would make balloon animals and play games with the children. Food industry tycoon McDonald’s even trusted to make the clown Ronald McDonald the mascot for their fast food franchise.
Such a beloved character such as a clown would have never been thought to be anything more than harmless and wholesome. However, with comic books, movies, and other depictions of killer clowns, people’s perception of them may have began to change.
Not only this, but someone else who may have also contributed to people’s awareness of clowns appearing scary, as well as people developing full blown coulrophobia is John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was an American serial killer and rapist who was infamously known as the “Killer Clown”. He worked as a clown during the 1970’s and would often be seen performing at children’s birthday parties. Gacy sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men during the 70’s in Cook County, Illinois. He was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994.
It also didn’t help that many clowns were often perceived as looking uncanny or creepy to begin with. These things obviously cannot be the sole cause of someone developing caoulrophobia as this is a mental disorder, which means that factors such as genetics and one’s environment will often play a role as well.
Symptoms of Coulrophobia
Someone suffering from coulrophobia will find it very challenging to be near or to see clowns. Doing so will often put them in a fight or flight state of mind. Hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol would then be released which will raise their heart rate, increase their oxygen consumption, as well as make their senses sharper, among other things. They may experience this by merely thinking of clowns.
Someone with coulrophobia will likely try to avoid seeing clowns as best they can to ensure that they don’t experience the intense anxiety that is associated with this condition. So, this may mean avoiding circus’s, amusement parks, festivals, or any other places where clowns are known to be at.
Below, you will see some common symptoms of coulrophobia:
Anxiety when around clowns
Anxiety when thinking of clowns
Unable to cope with their fear of clowns
Avoiding clowns at all costs
May experience panic attacks
Causes of Coulrophobia
There are no known causes of coulrophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment are likely to be significant causes of this condition. Someone who has a family history of mental illness, especially with anxiety disorders may have an increased chance of developing coulrophobia. This is likely due to them also being at risk for having a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness.
If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only take them experiencing some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown coulrophobia. For instance, a child with a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness may have watched the movie “It” and became immensely disturbed by it, so much so to the point to where they developed a phobia of clowns.
Though we do not know what definitively causes someone to develop coulrophobia, there is an overwhelming consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of any given mental disorder. This would also include coulrophobia.
Coulrophobia Treatments (abridged)
There is no form of treatment that is specifically designed for coulrophobia. However, exposure therapy may be very beneficial for treating the symptoms associated with this condition. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to their fear over a given period of time. So, this may mean showing them pictures or videos of a clown during their session together.
Though doing so will inevitably give the patient a high amount of anxiety, it will also help to desensitize them of their fear of clowns in the long run. It is very important for their therapist to be adept at treating phobias due to the fact that if they are exposed to too much too soon then it may actually worsen their coulrophobia as opposed to improving it.
Anti-anxiety medication may also be able to help reduce some of the symptoms associated with coulrophobia. Anxiety is the main emotion experienced with phobias, so naturally an anti-anxiety medication or some other SSRI may be able to help reduce the intensity of their anxiety.
If you think you may have coulrophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you are properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a therapist or a psychiatrist for further treatment.
Exercise for Coulrophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including coulrophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.
According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of coulrophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.
There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of coulrophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with coulrophobia over time.
Practicing Yoga for Coulrophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from coulrophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with coulrophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.
There are many different types of yoga that someone with coulrophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with coulrophobia.
If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of coulrophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Coulrophobia
It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with coulrophobia to experience panic attacks.
So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.
Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with coulrophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Coulrophobia
DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like coulrophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.
One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with coulrophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.
Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with coulrophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.
Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with coulrophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your coulrophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Coulrophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe coulrophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.
These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their coulrophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.
These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as coulrophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of coulrophobia.
These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of coulrophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Coulrophobia
CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with coulrophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.
CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with coulrophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with coulrophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.
Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with coulrophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Coulrophobia
MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from coulrophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with coulrophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.
Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of coulrophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Practicing Meditation for Coulrophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from coulrophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.
Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from coulrophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.
For someone with coulrophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.
To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of coulrophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.
Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with coulrophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Coulrophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as coulrophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with coulrophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.
The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with coulrophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their coulrophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with coulrophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.