What is Ecophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Ecophobia.
An intense fear of home is called Ecophobia. 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 in or near their home.
At times, one may even experience anxiety when thinking about home. In severe cases, sufferers undergo panic attacks.
In order to get rid of these unpleasant feelings produced in Ecophobia, one avoids getting exposed to his house.
They do so because avoidance makes one feel safe and pleasant. This maintains their fear and one repeats their actions.
Repetitive acts of avoidance can turn into compulsions. A sufferer can develop OCD as a result.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, an individual will refrain from going to his own house and prefer living his life as a nomad. They will hesitate not just going in the house, but also from passing by it.
Sufferers will feel comfortable living independently, let say in a dorm even if it means one not seeing his family or cost of living being extremely high.
Ecophobia will affect one’s social relations with family members and their careers.
Home is considered to be a safe haven. It is the place where one seeks comfort in visiting.
Normally, people after having a tiring day look forward to going to their home so they can relax.
Some, however, do see it as a place which can bring mental stress or danger to them, based on their past experiences.
But, someone suffering from Ecophobia sees their home as one of the most dangerous, anxiety triggering places.
Their fear is completely irrational, even if it is justified in terms of their past experiences because the excess anxiety is out of touch with reality.
Ecophobia is an irrational fear of one’s home. One suffers from feelings of extreme anxiety when exposed to their homes.
Symptoms of Ecophobia
People with Ecophobia, like in all other phobias, experience intense anxiety when exposed to their homes.
They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus, end up feeling more anxious. This anxiety, in extreme cases, can give rise to full-blown panic attacks.
The sufferer 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) or stay and combat their fear (fight).
In the case of Ecophobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to one’s house (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.
Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.
Including anxiety, Ecophobia has a number of other physiological symptoms which include:
- Extreme anxiety when exposed to one’s home
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about home
- Avoiding home
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart beat
- Feelings of dizziness
- Screaming or crying
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus)
- Upset stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months to be diagnosed with Ecophobia, according to the DSM-V.
Causes of Ecophobia
Ecophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Ecophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of one’s home.
This trigger event can be a past-traumatic experience in childhood. One may fear his home because he fears his parents or other family members.
For example, his parents were very aggressive and violent either with each other or with the sufferer.
Therefore, he avoids going to his house because he wants to escape his parents and or the violence and aggression.
Someone may develop Ecophobia because he feels unsafe in his house. This can be either because his house was set on fire or was robbed while he was in it.
One may have heard of an unpleasant incident happening to someone in their own house like an unlawful killing.
Additionally, movie news stories also show incidents of why one’s house can not be safe for him to live.
Thus, Ecophobia develops by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Ecophobia
Ecophobia, like all other phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, this phobia 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.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Ecophobia is defined as the irrational fear of home. 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 home.
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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Ecophobia.
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 his house 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 going to his house.
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 his real house.
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 home, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• 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 Ecophobia, 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 the person is in a particular yoga posture.
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 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 of home.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Ecophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this 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 blowing wind, 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/fearful aspects to it.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ecophobia.
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
Medicines like Valium 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.
These drugs, as the name suggests 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 Ecophobia, 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).
Titles to read
- Powerful Calm, Release Anxiety, Stress, Worry & Fear: Train Your Mind with Energizing Music & Affirmations
by Jupiter Productions, Anna Thompson, et al.
by Jennifer Allwood and Zondervan
by Margie Warrell
by Reneau Peurifoy
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Ecophobia?
A genetic predisposition and or environmental factors cause one to develop Ecophobia.
Q2) Do I have Ecophobia?
To be diagnosed with Ecophobia one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Other physiological symptoms like nausea, heart rate and or breathlessness are also experienced by one.
Q3) Is Ecophobia curable?
Yes. Like all other specific phobias, Ecophobia is treated using a number of psychotherapies and medicinal drugs.
Examples of other interesting phobias
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