Nyctophobia (Fear of the Dark)
Nyctophobia is the irrational fear of darkness. Someone who has this mental disorder may find it extremely difficult or nearly impossible to be in the dark. They may go to painstaking efforts to stay indoors once it gets dark outside regardless of the situation. This may force them to isolate themselves from others in an attempt to ensure that they won’t be in any sort of darkness.
Someone with this condition may sleep with the lights on, have an unreasonable amount of flashlights and candles in their home, and multiple generators just in case the lights happen to go out. Some people suffering with nyctophobia may realize that their fear is irrational. However, this isn’t always the case. Young children typically have nyctophobia due to how movies and other forms of media dramatize the dangers of the dark.
People suffering from nyctophobia fear what they cannot see. They are typically aware that they are more vulnerable in the dark as opposed to in the daylight. This tidbit of rationality may be all they need to do whatever they can to stay out of the dark and into the light. Below, you’ll see some of the more common symptoms of nyctophobia.
The fear of darkness is often experienced in young children. This is greatly due to their ignorance of reality, as well as their limited life experience. However, this is not to say that adults cannot develop nyctophobia, because this can most certainly be the case. Theoretically, anyone can develop this mental illness, as long as they have the genetic predisposition to do so.
Those suffering from a fear of darkness may make irrational decisions when it comes to avoiding the dark. They may only go out of their house in the daylight so to avoid darkness. This also includes avoiding businesses/restaurants that have dimly lit lights. Such an environment is meant to enhance the experience of the customer, but for someone with nyctophobia it only exacerbates their symptoms. They typically find jobs that are during the day and not at night. They may also desire the company of others if and when they happen to find themselves in the dark, whether inside or outside.
Someone with nyctophobia may also have samhainophobia (fear of Halloween), but the reasons for their fear of this holiday may be due to the fact that it is celebrated at night, as opposed to truly being fearful of the characteristics of the holiday itself. The mere thought of going out at night to an event or even to simply get out of the house may bring forth high amounts of anxiety and stress. Having such foresight may leave them to be a “prisoner” in their own home.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of nyctophobia:
Intense fear of the dark
Avoidance of the dark
Stays indoors at night
Typically don’t drive at night
Fearful when alone
Isolated from other people at night
There is not much known about what causes this particular phobia. However, most people who have nyctophobia are young children or people who are very anxious already. This condition can develop in young children largely due to the frightening portrayal of darkness in horror films. Children who are subject to such movies or TV shows begin to “learn” that darkness is a thing to be feared. When a young child already has the genetic predisposition to develop mental illness, then it may only take a couple traumatizing experiences in the dark for them to develop nyctophobia.
Nyctophobia is not only seen in children. Adults who are genetically predisposed to develop mental illness may also develop this condition. However, it is much more likely to be common in children and young adults. Another cause of being irrationally afraid of the dark may be due to other disorders. Someone may suffer from major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder and develop nyctophobia simply as an extension of their other mental illnesses.
There are many other reasons as to why someone would develop an intense, irrational fear of darkness. A traumatizing experience that occurred at night or in a dark room may be enough to cause nyctophobia in the victim. For example, someone may develop a chronic fear of being outside at night because they recently got robbed at gunpoint when they were walking to their car one night. Such a stressful situation can easily been seen as a cause for someone developing nyctophobia. Other traumatizing events that could occur at night which would transition someone to develop this condition would be getting in a bad car accident at night, a violent fight, etc.
Nyctophobia Treatments (abridged)
Like most phobias, nyctophobia may be difficult to treat. For instance, there are no medications that are specifically prescribed for this phobia. However, anti-anxiety medications may be able to help minimize the symptoms associated with nyctophobia. Also, if you suffer from other forms of mental illness such as OCD or GAD, then the medications used to treat those anxiety disorders may also be able to help minimize symptoms of nyctophobia as well.
Talk therapy may be able to help, as well as exposure therapy. A common form of talk therapy that may be effective at reducing the symptoms of nyctophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help with changing your relationship with darkness and help you get to the root of your fears, as well as learning several coping skills that can help you minimize unnecessary mental anguish as brought on by nyctophobia.
Exposure therapy would work by slowly exposing you to darkness to the point to where you would eventually be desensitized to it. Such a form of therapy, if implemented by an experienced therapist may be able to significantly reduce your symptoms of nyctophobia over time. However, if you are exposed to too much darkness too soon, then it may have an opposite effect by merely exacerbating your symptoms.
If you think you may suffer from nyctophobia, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible to get treated.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Nyctophobia
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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 Nyctophobia
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 nyctophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Meditation for Nyctophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from nyctophobia. 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia, 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 nyctophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Nyctophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as nyctophobia. 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their nyctophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with nyctophobia 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.
Exercise for Nyctophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including nyctophobia. 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia, 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 nyctophobia over time.
Yoga for Nyctophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from nyctophobia. 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia.
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 nyctophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Nyctophobia
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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Nyctophobia
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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia. 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 nyctophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Nyctophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia 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 nyctophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of nyctophobia.
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 nyctophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.