Life is not always predictable. In fact, we live in many uncertainties, such as what does the future holds, or what will lies ahead in the horizon?
While most of us will either approach it with excitement or worry, some people dread the concept of an unknown future. They simply fear everything that is unknown.
Agnostophobia comes from the Greek word “agnostos” or unknown, and “Phobos” which means phobia. While it’s normal to worry about something that is not known to us, it’s not normal when our life becomes restricted, or we are paralyzed by fear that it already affects the way of our living.
Signs and Symptoms of Agnostophobia
How do we find out if a person is suffering from Agnostophobia? What are the usual signs or symptoms that they exhibit whenever they are confronted with their fear?
Here are some of the symptoms of persons suffering from agnostophobia:
- Sudden fear or deep anxiety when thinking of the unknown
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold sweat, hot flushes, and panic attacks
- Sick feeling when the thoughts of uncertainties set in
- Rapid heart rate or palpitation
- Dry mouth and shortness of breath
- Expecting the worst outcome
Agnostophobia like many other phobias share a common underlying trait with many anxiety disorders, including panic disorder: increased awareness of uncertain threats such as fear of the unknown.
Causes and Common Triggers of Agnostophobia
Fearing the unknown. Below are some of the causes and common triggers of agnostophobia:
- Encounter with large and aggressive birds such as hawks, swans, or vultures and feel threatened by them. This can develop the fear of birds in young children.
- It can be acquired or learned from a parent or older sibling who has a fear of birds. Even in other phobias, children learn from the people around them how to react to different stimuli. They will easily pick up that birds are to be feared, when people close to them show such fears.
- The media, especially movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, which portray birds as aggressive and terrifying animals can also contribute.
Treatments of Agnostophobia
Most phobias do not require treatment especially if it’s in its mild form, and when the person is still able to function normally in life. The person can adjust to his or her phobia and keep it under control.
A treatment is strongly advised if the phobia affects the person’s way of life, whether personally or at work, and his or her relationship with friends, family, and colleagues suffer.
Psychotherapy is the recommended treatment on these types of situations where the person can talk about his/her fear of the unknown, with a person that he or she knows is a professional that can help him or her. Hypnosis can sometimes help especially in extreme cases.
Aside from Psychotherapy, here are the other acceptable treatments for people with agnostophobia. Studies have shown that these treatments have helped lessen the fear in most patients:
For most phobias, exposure therapy is said to be the most successful. There are several studies conducted about treatments of phobias using imaginal exposure. This means for people with Agnostophobia, they will be gradually exposed to images that imply or depicts uncertainty or the unknown. Based on the same studies, 90% of subjected to the treatment exhibited a considerable fear reduction. And around 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of their phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is another form of treatment for persons with phobias. It is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. What it does is it helps the patient to challenge or change their thoughts or beliefs, in addressing their problems. This treatment was originally meant to treat depression, but has since been expanded to treat other conditions including anxiety, which is common and exhibited by most or all phobic people.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
In this type of therapy, the patient is given a simulated experience using computer programs and artificially created environments. They use Virtual Reality gadgets to provide the patient a controlled stimuli as part of the treatment. They then monitor the patient’s reaction. It’s a series of VR-based treatment where it involves adjusting the virtual environment. Sometimes smell or adding vibrations allow the clinician to determine the level of the patient's reaction to the stimuli. Replaying virtual scenes multiple times with or without adjustment depending on the patient's reaction.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Agnostophobia
Persons suffering from agnostophobia may find themselves restricted by their fear. They find themselves more and more incapable of interacting in society. Some people tend to keep to themselves and become loners for being distressed by thoughts of uncertainty.
How Common Is Agnostophobia?
No clear data is available on how many suffer from agnostophobia. But since there is a clear link between agnostophobia and social anxiety disorder, it might be common as some people may think. In a Psychology Today interview, Dr. Signe Dayhoff stated that almost 20 million individuals at any one time suffer from some form of social anxiety disorders. And the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about 6.8% of US adults suffer from social phobias such as agnostophobia.
What Should You Do If You Have Agnostophobia?
Since phobia in general is an irrational fear about an object or something, it may help if you talk to a professional who knows how to deal with this problem. This is where psychotherapy, or exposure therapy may be applied to your condition.
You may want to join online support groups social media where discussions about a particular subject or topic such as agnostophobia are welcomed.
Agnostophobia, or fear of the unknown can be treated, and the irrational fear can be overcome. Knowing or acknowledging to yourself that you suffer from the disorder, is the first step towards conquering your fear. Most phobias can be “unlearned” with treatment that focuses on the mind. While it’s not possible to worry about the unknown, or what the future brings, it’s also possible to look forward to it with hope and optimism.