What is Botanophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Botanophobia.
An intense fear of plants is called Botanophobia. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to all plants or a specific type of it.
In Botanophobia, not just the exposure but the mere thought of plants can trigger anxiety. If the anxiety worsens, one can also undergo panic attacks.
Plants are living things, an essential part of our ecosystem. They are completely harmless, unthreatening stimuli which are home to many tiny insects or worms.
Plants provide food to almost all types of animals, insects or birds.
Someone who suffers from Botanophobia will see plants as potentially threatening and daunting. One will get extremely fearful in their presence.
Though, some acknowledge their fear to be irrational, they are unable to control it.
Thus, sufferers avoid plants completely in order to feel safe.
Avoidance is repeated because of the pleasant feelings it produces. Thus, one’s fear is validated due to the elimination of anxiety.
These actions of avoiding their fear stimuli by the sufferer can turn into compulsions, causing one to develop OCD.
According to the DSM-V, Botanophobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, sufferers will avoid keeping plants in their own homes or living near gardens or in rural areas.
One will not step food out of his house if they fear they’ll encounter plants on their way to school or office.
An individual will prefer not going to school if they see plants in their classroom or study about them.
Because plants are found to be almost everywhere, avoiding them everytime can be impossible and extremely stressful.
This stress and trauma can lead to one developing depression.
Botanophobia is an irrational fear of plants. One will suffer from extreme anxiety when exposed to plants.
Symptoms of Botanophobia
Anxiety is a symptom, common in all specific phobias, including Botanophobia.
People with this irrational fear of plants can become extremely anxious in their presence or by their thought.
This might even cause them to have full-blown panic attacks, requiring hospitalization if the condition worsens.
According to the DSM-V, one must have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. In addition to anxiety, one also suffers from a number of different physiological symptoms.
One’s experience of their fear varies from person to person. This is because individuals process the same stimuli differently, based on their past experiences.
Sufferers go into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive steps.
According to the DSM-V, one must experience at least 3-5 of the symptoms listed below to be diagnosed with Botanophobia, which are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of plants
- Extreme anxiety caused by the thought about plants
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Frequently avoiding plants
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Feeling of an impending doom
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Mouth drying up
- Hot/cold flashes
Causes of Botanophobia
Botanophobia can be a result of either a genetic predisposition or environmental factors.
If someone has a genetic predisposition or a family history of anxiety disorders, they are more likely to develop a specific phobia.
This is because they have an inborn tendency to have Botanophobia, triggered by an environmental factor (Diathesis-stress relationship).
Other phobias that are related to Botanophobia can also be the reason why one develops it.
For example, someone with Dendrophobia (fear of trees) will be fearful of plants because of their association with trees/the similarity they hold.One can be fearful of plants because they might have a fear of forests.
Environmental factors include a past-traumatic event. Someone might develop a fear for plants based on an unpleasant, scary experience they might’ve had.
For example, a child might have suffered an injury because of a specific plant or heard someone else have it.
They might be fearful of plants because a specific type of it is poisonous.
Someone who had an encounter with or heard/read about this type will generalize their fear to all types of plants.
Someone with a fear of Insects (Insectophobia) can also be afraid of plants because they are home to a lot of tiny insects or worms.
Botanophobia can also be a result of the fact that many plants, such as Venus fly traps are carnivorous.
A sufferer will associate his fear of carnivorous plants to all types.
Therefore, it is evident that there is no one real cause as to why one develops Botanophobia because every individual perceives their fear of plants in a different way, due to a number of various reasons.
However, it is assumed that genetic factors combined with these personal experiences can cause Botanophobia.
Treatment of Botanophobia
Botanophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Botanophobia is treated by a number of therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Botanophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of plants for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he encounters a plant.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels that he’s in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real plants.
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of fear during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to their fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of plants by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Botanophobia is defined as the irrational fear of plants. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to their fear stimuli.
The therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Botanophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Botanophobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii.The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Botanophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga pose/position.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit for any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about plants.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Botanophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
These include medicines like Klonopin.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers the anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Botanophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is with using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- Overcoming Specific Phobia – Therapist Protocol: A Hierarchy and Exposure-Based Protocol for the Treatment of All Specific Phobias
by Edmund J. Bourne PhD and Matthew McKay PhD
by Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Brett J. Deacon, et a
by Jarnail Singh and Janardhan Singh
by Martin M. Antony, Michelle G. Craske, et al
- The A-Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties (Facts on File Library of Health & Living)
by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.
- Overcoming Specific Phobia – Client Manual (Best Practices Series)
by Edmund Bourne PhD (1998-05-01)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is a fear of leaves called?
Botanophobia is an irrational fear of plants (which also include leaves).
Q2) Is Botanophobia treatable?
Yes. Botanophobia is treated using a number of therapies and medicines.
Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), DBT or yoga are quite effective in helping a person get rid of this irrational fear of plants.
Medicines like anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs are also prescribed by the doctor depending on the intensity/severity of the patient’s fear.
Q3) Can my parents pass on Botanophobia to me?
Yes, they can. You are not bound to have Botanophobia if your parents have it but, you are more vulnerable (in the presence of trigger events).
Examples of other interesting phobias