Theatrophobia is the irrational fear of theaters. Someone suffering from this disorder will find it extremely anxiety provoking to even be near a theater, let alone to actually be inside of one. Their fear of theaters may stem from a combination of other conditions, such as claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), agoraphobia (fear of crowded places), and/or nyctophobia (fear of the dark), for example. However, this will depend on many factors such as genetics and environment.

People who suffer from theatrophobia may find the thought of being in a large, dark room filled with dozens of other people to be anxiety provoking enough. Add with that only a couple distant exit doors and such a situation has the potential to cause someone with this condition to experience a full blown panic attack.

Symptoms of theatrophobia may have increased in the US during the late 1800’s due to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln is known today as one of America’s best presidents ever. He was assassinated on April 14th, 1865 while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. where John Booth shot him in the back of the head.

Such a shocking event would likely have put a great deal of fear in people who were regular theater patrons. A great deal of their fear would likely be the vulnerability aspect of watching plays/movies. The room is dark, the patron’s attention is deeply focused on the current scene, and it is meant to be a leisurely event in a safe environment, not a place where you would expect someone to get murdered.

Symptoms of Theatrophobia

People with this condition can expect to experience a great deal of anxiety when inside of or near a theater. They may feel extremely vulnerable and unsafe when inside of one. It also doesn’t help when instances like the 2012 Aurora Shooting take place. This was where a schizophrenic killer opened fire on an audience attending a Batman film at a movie theater in Aurora, CO. Someone suffering from theatrophobia may go to whatever lengths to ensure that they never enter into a theater, nor pass by one.

As previously mentioned, their anxiety may be so intense and unbearable that they may even experience panic attacks which may call for them to be hospitalized. In such a situation, they can expect to experience an increase in heart rate, an increased rate of breathing, muscle tension, shakiness, and perspiration, among other symptoms.

People suffering from theatrophobia may also find that situations which are similar, but not exactly the same as being in a theater to be equally as traumatizing. For example, going to an enclosed sports bar where there are crowds of people and large TV’s or projectors may give them the feeling that they are in a “type” of theater. Such places may give them an immense amount of anxiety, thus forcing them to avoid such places altogether.

Below, you will see some more common symptoms of theatrophobia:

  • Intense anxiety when inside a theater
  • Anxiety when thinking of theaters
  • Unable to cope with their fear
  • Muscle tension, shakiness, and sweating
  • May experience panic attacks

Causes of Theatrophobia

As is the case with virtually all other phobias, there is no known cause of theatrophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles. For example, if someone were to have a family history of mental illness, then this may increase their chances of developing theatrophobia. This in fact may be due to them also having a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness in general.

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 theatrophobia. For example, someone who experienced a theater shooting such as the 2015 Lafayette Shooting may easily develop an intense fear of theaters.

Though we do not definitively know what causes any given mental disorder to develop, the consensus among most mental health professionals is that both genetics and one’s environment may play very significant roles in the development of virtually any given mental illness. 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 theatrophobia.

Theatrophobia Treatments (abridged)

Exposure therapy is one of the most common and effective forms of treatment for people suffering from phobias. Exposure therapy works by having the patient become gradually exposed to their fear for a specific amount of time. Though doing so will inevitably give the patient an influx of unwanted anxiety, it will also help the patient to become desensitized to their fear over time. This is essentially one of the main goals of exposure therapy. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to that which they fear, the less it will bother them over time.

Besides exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be able to help as well. CBT works by having the patient change the way they think about their anxieties, among other things. They can expect to also learn new and effective coping mechanisms which can be very useful at the onset of a panic attack, as well as for during and after one too. In fact, CBT is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from anxiety disorders.

Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants may also help to minimize the intensity of someone’s symptoms of theatrophobia. This may be very helpful in low doses during the beginning of therapy (i.e. exposure therapy, CBT, etc.). Be that as it may, merely taking medication without also engaging in some sort of therapy may not be very effective for long term improvement. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor.

If you think you may have theatrophobia 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 you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist for further treatment.

Treatments (expanded)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Theatrophobia

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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia. 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 theatrophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.

Yoga for Theatrophobia

There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from theatrophobia. 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia.

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 theatrophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Theatrophobia

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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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 Theatrophobia

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 theatrophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.

Exposure Therapy for Theatrophobia

As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as theatrophobia. 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their theatrophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with theatrophobia 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.

Reducing Caffeine for Theatrophobia

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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia.

Psychiatric Drugs for Theatrophobia

Antidepressant Drugs

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 theatrophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of theatrophobia.

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 theatrophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.

Anti-anxiety Drugs

These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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.

Exercise for Theatrophobia

Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including theatrophobia. 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia, 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 theatrophobia over time.

Meditation for Theatrophobia

There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from theatrophobia. 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia 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 theatrophobia, 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 theatrophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.