Dysmorphophobia is the irrational fear of deformity. Someone suffering from this condition can expect to experience a high amount of anxiety when they are around someone who has a deformity or when merely thinking of one. Such anxiety would imaginably be much worse if they themselves somehow acquired a deformity of some kind.
Someone with dysmorphophobia may also experience panic attacks insofar as their symptoms are severe enough. During such a panic attack, they can expect to experience an increased heart rate, an increased rate of breathing, tense muscles, shakiness, and excessive sweating, among other symptoms.
Someone’s dysmorphophobia may be so severe that it may make them overly cautious about their safety to the point of paralysis, meaning that they may take very little risks in their life and may play it safe most of the time to limit their chances of becoming injured in some way.
Although engaging in such behavior may indeed help to reduce any acute anxiety that they would have otherwise experienced, doing so may also worsen their condition in the long run. This would likely be due to the fact that by them consistently avoiding activities which may cause them to get injured or avoiding people who have deformities, they are then just reinforcing their fear of it.
Another behavior which we might expect someone with dysmorphophobia to engage in would be to avoid going to certain public places where they know they may see someone who is deformed. Such places may be hospitals or other healthcare clinics. Although they may get some relief from their dysmorphophobia by doing this, limiting oneself from going to such places may be a huge mistake, especially during a health emergency.
Symptoms of Dysmorphophobia
As is the case with virtually every other phobia that exists, someone with dysmorphophobia can expect anxiety to be the most prominent symptom of their condition. Also, as previously mentioned, their anxiety may be so extreme that they may even endure full blown panic attacks as a result of it. Depending on the severity of their panic attack, they may even need to be hospitalized. However, this will vary from person to person and will be dependent on many factors.
Furthermore, someone with dysmorphophobia may go to painstaking efforts to ensure that they do not come into contact with their fear in any way. This may mean them not only avoiding areas where they may come into contact with their fear, but also that they may actively try to prevent it from happening by taking a more hands-on approach.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of this phobia:
- Anxiety when thinking of deformities
- Anxiety when near someone with a deformity
- Constantly avoiding people with deformities
- Unable to cope with their anxiety
- Muscle tension, shakiness, and sweating
- May experience panic attacks
Causes of Dysmorphophobia
There are no definitive causes of dysmorphophobia. Nevertheless, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles in the development of this condition. For example, if someone has a family history of mental illness, especially of anxiety disorders or specific phobias, then they may have a higher chance of developing dysmorphophobia. This may be due to them then having a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness in general.
If someone were to have such genetics, then it may only require that they experience some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown dysmorphophobia. Essentially, any sort of emotionally painful event that involved the various fears associated with dysmorphophobia in some way may be enough for someone to develop this condition insofar as they have the proper genetics.
Although we do not know the exact causes of dysmorphophobia, the consensus among most mental health professionals is that both genetics and environmental factors play very significant roles in the development of any given mental disorder. So, taking a closer look at these two different parameters may shed some light as to whether or not you may be at risk for developing dysmorphophobia.
Just as there are no definitive causes of dysmorphophobia, there are also no treatments that are specifically designed for this condition either. Nevertheless, there are still many different forms of treatment that can help to significantly improve many of the symptoms of dysmorphophobia. Some of these treatments include exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and some psychiatric medications, among others.
Exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from phobias. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist gradually expose the patient to their fear over a given period of time. With regards to dysmorphophobia, the therapist may start off by exposing the patient to photos of a particular deformity and then eventually show them videos of one. This would all be in an attempt to help desensitize the patient to their fear by repetitively exposing them to it. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to something they fear, the less it will bother them over time.
CBT is another very common form of treatment that is often used to help people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), among other conditions. Moreover, it may also be effective at helping to treat people suffering from phobias like dysmorphophobia as well. CBT works by having the therapist help the patient to uncover why it is that they think, feel, and behave the way they do with regards to a particular fear or concern they have.
Someone with dysmorphophobia partaking in CBT can expect to learn why it is that they think the way they do about their fear, among other things. Understanding such things may help someone with dysmorphophobia to take a more pragmatic approach when thinking about their fear of deformity.
Psychiatric Medications for Dysmorphophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of dysmorphophobia.
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 dysmorphophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Dysmorphophobia
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 dysmorphophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Meditation for Dysmorphophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from dysmorphophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimous 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia, 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 dysmorphophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Dysmorphophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as dysmorphophobia. 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their dysmorphophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with dysmorphophobia 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.
Yoga for Dysmorphophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from dysmorphophobia. 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia.
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 dysmorphophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Exercise for Dysmorphophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including dysmorphophobia. 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia, 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 dysmorphophobia over time.
Caffeine Reduction for Dysmorphophobia
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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Dysmorphophobia
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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia. 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 dysmorphophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Dysmorphophobia
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 dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with dysmorphophobia 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 dysmorphophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
If you think you may be suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you may benefit from therapy. Feel free to reach out to your doctor or local mental health clinic to see what your available options are and to see if there is any sort of discount or promo code available to help you with the costs of treatment, as well as if your health insurance will cover treatment costs.