What is Chirophobia? (A Summary)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Chirophobia.
An intense fear of hands is called Chirophobia. 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 they are exposed to hands. They are terrified when they see their own hands or someone else’s.
Not just the sight but the very thought of hands can instigate stress. They can also suffer from full-blown panic attacks if the anxiety worsens.
Therefore, one avoids to come in contact with hands or look at them.
Avoidance is repeated because of the pleasant feelings it produces by eliminating anxiety. One can develop OCD as a result.
This is because these actions can turn into compulsions.
According to the DSM-V, the anxiety and acts of avoidance caused in Chirophobia affect one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, a sufferer will avoid looking at someone’s or their own hands, whatever the case is.
They will also be fearful of being touched by someone because they see hands as a source of causing harm.
Chirophobia is the irrational fear of hands. The name derives from a Greek word ‘chiro’ meaning hand and phobia meaning fear. One will also be afraid of being touched.
Symptoms of Chirophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Chirophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom. Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of hands suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heart rate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks about encountering hands, he goes 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 from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Sufferers of Chirophobia experience symptoms in different ways. One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Chirophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to hands
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about hands
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding hands
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Chirophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Chirophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Chirophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Chirophobia than someone who doesn’t.
This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
Genes and neurotransmitters also play a significant role in this genetic predisposition.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Chirophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear related to hands.
An environmental trigger event can be for example, as a child one might’ve been sexually harassed or molested by someone (or inappropriately touched).
One can develop fear of hands because of the unpleasant feelings this incident caused.
Now the coronavirus epidemic is an added cause of developing Chirophobia.
People now avoid shaking hands and physical contact, therefore, this has led to mass anxiety worldwide.
Hands can be a source of causing pain to someone else.
Therefore, someone who has seen or heard of incidents where one is injured or beaten up, they can associate hands with violence and thus, develop Chirophobia.
Therefore, Chirophobia is a result of both a genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
Treatment of Chirophobia
Chirophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Chirophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, 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 Chirophobia (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 hands, 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 is touching/looking at his own hands.
During this 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 is then exposed to real hands.
For example, he is told to look at/touch the hands of someone else.
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 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 hands 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.
Chirophobia is defined as the irrational fear of hands.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 their fear stimuli.
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.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear. In the case of Chirophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of hands.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Chirophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months 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 sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory 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, 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.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Chirophobia.
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:
- Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil 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.
- Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Chirophobia, 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).
Q1) What causes Chirophobia?
Chirophobia is caused by a genetic predisposition (family history) and or environmental factors (past traumatic experiences).
Q2) How is Chirophobia diagnosed?
By the help of the criteria mentioned in the DSM-V for specific phobias, one can be diagnosed with Chirophobia.
The criteria mentions, one should have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, accompanied by other physiological symptoms.
Q3) Are psychotherapies the most effective ways of treating Chirophobia?
They are not the most, but one of the most effective ways of treating Chirophobia.
Medicines are also used in treating phobias and are successful in doing so.
Q4) What are the symptoms of Chirophobia?
Excess anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, increased heart rate, fear of an impending doom are one of the many symptoms one experiences in Chirophobia.