Sciophobia is the irrational fear of shadows. Someone experiencing this condition may experience extremely intense amounts of anxiety as a result of their fear. Their sciophobia may dictate major decisions they make in their day to day life such as choosing to not go outside in the daylight much in fear that they may come across a shadow. They may also be hyper-aware of shadows and may consciously look for them as opposed to them only having a subconscious “knee-jerk” reaction to them.
They may look for shadows so that they can try and avoid them. Their sciophobia may stem from an evolutionary adaptation to be fearful of the dark or dark areas as a means of protection. However, merely being fearful of the shadow a building gives off or of one’s own shadow is clearly an immense exaggeration of this evolutionary adaptation, if this particular adaptation even exists.
They may go to painstaking efforts to ensure that they don’t come into contact with or see any shadows. Their fear may be so extreme that they may even suffer from full blown panic attacks, which may require hospitalization depending on the intensity of their anxiety. Sciophobia is not as common as many other phobias such as the fear of cockroaches, the fear of dogs, or the fear of the number 666 for instance.
Merely being fearful a shadowy silhouette is not intimation of them having sciophobia. Rather, this condition is likely due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Symptoms of Sciophobia
As is the case with virtually all types of phobias, intense anxiety is expected to be one of the most prominent symptoms experienced for those suffering with sciophobia. The intense anxiety that they will experience may greatly impact their self-esteem, as well as their self-image. They may feel very inadequate due to their irrational fear, thus exacerbating their symptoms.
They may in fact realize that their sciophobia is out of touch with reality and is not based on any innate danger. However, in the midst of an intimidating shadow or during a panic attack, they will be unable to think coherently enough for them to rationalize their way out of their intense anxiety. This inability to think logically may be a significant cause for the great deal of mental anguish someone with sciophobia may experience.
Depending on many different factors, such as their genetic makeup for instance, as well as the intensity of their symptoms, they may in fact develop other mental disorders in addition to sciophobia, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for example. However, this will likely vary from person to person.
Below, you will see some common symptoms of sciophobia:
Intense anxiety when seeing a shadow
Anxiety when thinking of a shadow
May not go outside in daylight much
Unable to cope with intense emotions
Muscle tension, shakiness, and sweating
Causes of Sciophobia
There is no known cause for someone developing sciophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may play significant roles. For example, someone who has a family history of mental illness, especially with anxiety disorders or phobias may have an increased chance of developing sciophobia. This has to do with them then having an increased chance of being genetically predisposed for developing mental illness.
If they were to have such a genetic predisposition, it may then only require that they experience some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown sciophobia. Such a traumatic experience may be a very pertinent factor for why someone would develop sciophobia. In fact, the same thing can be said for virtually all phobias.
As far as the possibility of sciophobia being an irrational hyperbolic version of an evolutionary adaptation to fear dark areas, there seems to be some pretty good rationality here. Our distant ancestors may have quickly found out that various predators like to hide in dark areas such as in caves and burrows, also not to mention that dark/shadowed areas may also contain sharp objects that can cause injury if stepped on.
Though we can definitely look at the many potential factors as to why someone may develop sciophobia, the exact causes are unknown. This is essentially the case for every other type of phobia as there is much research that is still needed to be done for us to fully understand these mental illnesses.
Sciophobia Treatments (abridged)
There is no treatment that is specifically designed for sciophobia. However, talk therapy, exposure therapy, and anti-anxiety medication may be able to help treat the symptoms associated with an irrational fear of shadows. Talk therapy may be very advantageous for someone suffering with sciophobia as it can be a way for them to learn how to cope with their intense emotions, as well as learning how to improve their faulty thinking.
Exposure therapy is another very common form of treatment that is used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders, and it may be beneficial for those suffering with sciophobia as well. Just as the name implies, exposure therapy works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to that which they fear. The goal with this type of treatment is to try and desensitize the patient from their irrational fear by repetitively exposing them to their fear over time. Though exposure therapy may be very effective for some people, it may not be for everyone as it typically involves enduring extremely heightened amounts of anxiety.
Anti-anxiety medication may also be able to help reduce the symptoms of intense anxiety that is associated with sciophobia as well. However, merely taking medication alone may not be enough to truly recover from this condition in the long term as they may need to learn how to cope with their intense emotions, as well as how to think differently about their fears. This cannot be done by merely taking medication. It may be beneficial as a way to supplement therapy treatment, but it may not be very effective by itself.
If you think you may have sciophobia 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 can get properly diagnosed and treated.
Exercise for Sciophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including sciophobia. 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia, 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 sciophobia over time.
Practicing Yoga for Sciophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from sciophobia. 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia.
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 sciophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Sciophobia
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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Sciophobia
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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia. 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 sciophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Sciophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of sciophobia.
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 sciophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Sciophobia
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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 Sciophobia
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 sciophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with sciophobia 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 sciophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Practicing Meditation for Sciophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from sciophobia. 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia, 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 sciophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Sciophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as sciophobia. 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 sciophobia 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 sciophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their sciophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with sciophobia 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.
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