What is Kenophobia? (A Summary)

In this blog we will summarize what Kenophobia is and how it can be treated.

Kenophobia is a fear of open spaces and voids. It is intense and the person suffering from it undergoes a full-blown panic attack at the sight or even thinking about large and empty places.

It is the opposite of Claustrophobia, a fear of closed spaces. These people cannot go out into the open as they suffer extreme anxiety. 

The vastness of places scares them, bringing upon shortness of breath, headaches and a feeling of dread.

The term ‘Kenophobia’ has been taken from the Greek word ‘Kenos’ meaning ‘blank’ and ‘phobos’ meaning ‘fear’.

These people prefer crowded places and places filled with landmarks, infrastructure and mountains.

Open fields and prairies are the sources of their fear.

The coziness of a place makes them comfortable. 

There are many causes that can trigger the onset of Kenophobia, but the good news is that treatment is also available.

Once the cause is known, the remedy is always close by.

Kenophobia is the intense and irrational fear of empty spaces, empty rooms, or voids.

These people are also afraid of landscapes that to others provide a natural solace.

They seem to get detached or disconnected from reality when they find themselves in open spaces. 

The PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS may include:

•                     Rapid heartbeat at the mention of the stars or sky

•                     Avoid to look at the stars

•                     Avoid going out at night

•                     Breathlessness

•                     Dizziness

•                     Sweating

•                     Trembling

•                     Dry mouth

•                     Hyperventilation

•                     Raised blood pressure

•                     Ringing sound in ears


b)     The PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS may include:

•       Irritability

•       Fear of losing control

•       Withdrawn

•       Mood swings

•       Fear of dying

•       Feeling of helplessness

Causes of Kenophobia

As with most phobias and anxieties, there is no clear consensus about what causes Kenophobia.

The most common explanation is a childhood traumatic episode where a child may have gotten lost or felt scared in an open space such as a field or a vast, open beach. 

There are plenty of people with Kenophobia who cannot even recall the traumatic incident.

Some degree of resistance to vast, open fields, or large open spaces is common, but Kenophobia is an exaggerated form of this reaction.

Many times, Kenophobia can suddenly arise out of the blue.

Scientists believe that a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, and other biological and environmental factors could cause such fears to develop.

As is common in specific phobias, the cause of Kenophobia may lie deep in the person’s childhood or its onset may be due to an environmental factor.

Genetics also plays a pivotal role in the cause of developing Kenophobia. 

Other causes can be as follow:

• Learned behavior

• Traumatic experiences

Etiological Models of Kenophobia

1. Biological (Genetic) Model

Genetics also determines how a person reacts and feels. Therefore, people inherit fears and phobias as well from their families.

The brain cells (neurons) release certain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Serotonin and Dopamine are two neurotransmitters that in depleted states can cause anxiety like symptoms.

2. Psychodiagnostics Model

If a person has suffered from a traumatic experience in early childhood it can have a severe dire impact on his later life. 

A childhood traumatic experience could be where children often see a movie of a child or someone getting lost in the wilderness can also leave a long lasting impression.

Reading books that have a detailed account of prairies and the openness engulfing people who were never to be found can add to the fears.

A trauma or accident that took place in a void or open space fuels the anxiety level of the person who is already vulnerable. 

3. Behavioral Model

According to this model, irrational fear of open spaces and voids  may be caused through behaviors that are learned by replication.

Children often replicate unique behaviors of their adults, parents or a favorite aunt or uncle.

If a family member is already suffering from anxiety or is scared of the open spaces or even going out at where there are fields,  then chances are higher that only by observing this child may develop fear of open spaces and voids.

Treatments of Kenophobia

Kenophobia can be treated through different treatments.

These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

In CBT the therapist helps the client to amend his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.

This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.

The therapist helps the client to discover the reason for this thought, his behavior in regards to open places and voids.

This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Therefore, the results are seen soon.

It changes the way a person thinks and feels. CBT does not focus on probing the past to resolve current problems, rather it concentrates on the present situation. 

Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations.

Therefore, negative thoughts bring about a negative behavior response or an undesirable behavior.

Whereas, positive thoughts propagate desirable and healthy attitude and response.

For the treatment of Kenophobia, the therapist separates the problem into parts. These may include: thoughts, feelings and actions. 

  1. What thought is invoked at the sight of voids?
  2. How do you feel when you look at the open spaces?
  3. What do you do when you look at the voids? 
  4. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT and designed by Albert Ellis. According to Ellis, “people are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things.” This is what subjective perspective is. 

In kenophobia, the person sees the voids as threatening, not because these spaces are dangerous, but because he ‘views’ them as posing some kind of threat to his existence.

2) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)

This is one of the most common therapies used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient. 

In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the stimulus (voids) gradually with varying durations of time.

Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.

In Kenophobia the client is exposed to images of open spaces first.

For the fear to be invoked during therapy, the patient must be exposed to an intense stimulus (one that is feared).

He is also asked to narrate any scene from a movie he has seen that involved open spaces, valleys or prairies. 

It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s.

The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’

Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client.

Then the client is asked to present a list that has a hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most. 

The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:

a)     In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine

b)    In vivo – where the client visits the the feared place in reality

The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.

3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

 MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.

We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.

We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. 

In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!

In Kenophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is in the presence of the void that he is afraid of. Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms. 

4. Meditation

For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.

The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.

The client will meditate during the exposure to the open space  and concentrate on his breathing patterns in the presence of the feared stimulus. 

5. Self-Help Groups

Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.

These groups are individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias.

They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.

This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.

6. Changing Lifestyle

Breaking down the dullness of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well. 

• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:

Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.

• Indulging in an exercise regime:

Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.

This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.

• Altering eating and drinking habits:

Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.

This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.

With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.

• Improving the sleep cycle:

When we get proper rest, our concentration improves.

When the mind is properly rested then only can it view the beauty of the open space like fields and prairies.

7.         Psychiatric Medication 

There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of kenophobia are severe.

1. Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)

These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.

2. Antidepressants 

These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Kenophobia as well as other phobias.

Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better. 

8.       Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.

A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.

Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.

Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Kenophobia mean?

Kenophobia is an irrational fear of empty spaces.

Do I have Kenophobia?

You can check if you have these Symptoms of Kenophobia when you are in open places; tremors, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, loss of control, urge to flee empty spaces, nausea and fainting. 

How can Kenophobia be treated?

Kenophobia can be treated by teaching patients how to overcome triggers without being scared by it, in this case empty spaces.

Can a person have another phobia as well as have Kenophobia?

A person can have 2-3 phobias together.


  • www.psychtimes.com
  • www.apa.org
  • www.brain.org
  • www.fearof.net

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