What is CHIONOPHOBIA (AN OVERVIEW)
In this blog post we will discuss symptoms, causes and treatment of Chionophobia.
Chionophobia is an extreme form of anxiety that affects occupational functioning and social relations of the sufferers, as they avoid living in northern climates because they associate cold temperatures with snow.
Chionophobics feel an exaggerated sense of fear towards snow.
This may be because in winters snow usually comes with snow blizzards which are potentially damaging and can be a source of fear and worry.
However, these people feel extremely anxious even with the slightest snow falls.
This is so because maybe the person has had a fearful or emotionally disturbing encounter with snow during their childhood or before they developed Chionophobia.
If these people live in a cold climate place, where snowfalls are a norm in winters, this can be extremely disturbing and irritating (physically and mentally) for them because of the inability to avoid their fear stimulus.
People who have a specific phobia impulsively avoid the stimulus of their fear (for example snow in Chionophobia) which rids them of their stress.
This pleasant feeling is what maintains their fear or phobia, as they repeatedly crave for the same satisfactory feelings, and avoid the anxious or disturbing thoughts.
The DSM-5 stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (Fifth edition).
It is a diagnostic tool which is used by Psychologists and Psychiatrist to diagnose a person with any kind of mental disorder or phobia.
The DSM-5’s criteria for Chionophobia includes extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months followed by panic attacks (in certain people).
The fear of snow should be present in an individual for at least 6-months and this fear or anxiety should cause hindrances in one’s social (family) life and occupational (relation with the society or work) functioning.
As per the DSM-5 the criteria of Chionophobia and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has to differ.
Chionophobia is an irrational fear of snow. The Greek word ‘chion’ refers to snow and ‘phobos’ means fear.
People with this type of specific phobia feel extremely anxious when they see snow.
Not just the presence of snow, but just thinking about it makes people anxious and can cause full blown panic attacks.
SYMPTOMS OF CHIONOPHOBIA
Chionophobia, like all other types of specific phobias can cause distress to people suffering from it. In phobias, this distress is extremely exaggerated, causing overwhelming levels of anxiety.
If the intensity of phobia is high, this anxiety can also induce full blown panic attacks (which might need hospitalization if too severe).
People make decisions as to how and where they want to live because living in a cold place (country) can make their symptoms more intense, causing the person great damage, physically and or mentally.
Sufferers of this type of phobia can also have exaggerated physiological symptoms by just watching/hearing about a weather forecast related to snow.
Some of the symptoms are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when near snow or when thinking about it.
- Avoiding places where they might encounter snow
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Influx of negative and emotionally disturbing thoughts
- Increased muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heartbeat/breathing rate
Including anxiety, at least 3-5 symptoms should be present in a person for them to be diagnosed with Chionophobia.
CAUSES OF CHIONOPHOBIA
Chionophobia is a specific phobia and is caused by relatively the same reasons as other phobias.
This irrational fear of snow can be a result of a childhood trauma or unpleasant experience with snow.
For example, a child might have been stuck in an easy place or situation due to a snowstorm.
Other reasons can be for example the associations formed with snow (a fairly neutral phenomena) with something emotionally shattering or disturbing.
A child might have lost his parents or one of them on a snowy day.
This event might have led him to associate this neutral stimuli (snow) with his parents’ death.
Now every time he sees snow or hears about it, it reminds him of his parents’ loss.
Another example of an environmental factor that leads to one becoming fearful of a stimulus can be, a child being bullied by his friends at school with snowballs, thus he develops the fear.
Or an old lady might have been unable to meet her children because of snow, thus she becomes fearful of being abandoned by her children whenever it snows.
This is why she will develop Chionophobia.
Childhood experiences are more important and highly discussed because this the time when most of the people develop fears or phobias due to an unpleasant event.
They might not develop phobia at that age but the events that led to this fear are more commonly experienced when a child.
This is so because at this age ones’ personality is still developing and the stimuli or events that seem normal or neutral to us might be very emotionally overwhelming to them.
Thus, the effects of childhood events are long lasting and even a small trigger can produce a phobia, later on in a person’s life.
Apart from past traumatic events, genetics also plays an important role in the formation of a phobia.
Any alteration in the structure of the person’s genes and an imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters can produce symptoms of phobia.
If one has a family history of any mental disorder or specific phobia, it is most likely that they may develop the same of different disorder.
For example, someone who has a first-degree relative (either of the parents) with Chionophobia has a higher chance of developing this phobia as compared to someone who doesn’t have a family history for it.
But it is important to note that there is no definite explanation as to why one develops phobias.
It can be either due to genetics, post traumatic events or both.
TREATMENT OF CHIONOPHOBIA
Like all the other specific phobias, Chionophobia is treated by a number of different 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 Chionophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his/her fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture for example, of snow or snowfall.
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 sees snow or is exposed to snowfall.
During the process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he/she is then exposed to an actual snow (for example, either in an artificial setting or natural setting).
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli 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/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients 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 snow, by being exposed 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 treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Chionophobia is defined as the irrational fear of snow.
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 snow or snowfall.
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 (anecdotes) 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 Chionophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Chionophobia.
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).
- 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.
- 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 sound of the wind, making use of their auditory sense.
- 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/fearful aspects to it.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is 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’ yoga and meditation 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Chionophobia, 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 calmer, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from 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 snow.
- Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Chionophobia.
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.
Whether the cause of Chionophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q1) Why am I scared of driving in snow?
The fear of driving in the snow has no specific phobia name.
It is a very common or normal fear that most people have during the winter season or snowfall.
This is mainly because of less friction between the road and the car tires, which usually cause a lot of accidents during this time of the year.
Many also fear the fact that the car might stop working in the middle of a long ride.
Q2) Is the fear of ice and fear of snow different?
Pagophobia is called as the fear of ice or frost and Chionophobia is known as the fear of snow.
Ice is solidified snow, heavier and dense. Snow is very light and flaky.
Q3) Is Chionophobia treatable?
Yes. Chionophobia 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 getting rid of this irrational fear of snow.
Medicines like anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs are also prescribed by the doctor depending on the intensity/severity of the patients fear.
Q4) Can my parents pass on Chionophobia to me?
Yes, they can.
You are not bound to have it if your parents have Chionophobia but, you are more vulnerable (in the presence of trigger events).
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
by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.
- Overcoming Specific Phobia – Client Manual (Best Practices Series) by Edmund Bourne PhD (1998-05-01)