What is Papyrophobia? (A Summary)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatments of Papyrophobia.
What is Papyrophobia?
Papyrophobia refers to the extreme and irrational fear of paper, where someone might experience a high degree of anxiety when they come in contact with paper at all. The word Papyrophobia comes from the Greek or Egyptian papyro or Papyrus meaning paper and phobos which means a deep dread or aversion. Someone with papyrophobia might be afraid of seeing, touching, writing on or simply getting cut by paper.
An intense fear of paper is called Papyrophobia. It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to papers.
Not just the exposure, but the mere thought of encountering papers can instigate anxiety. One can undergo full-blown panic attacks if the condition worsens.
Paper is a harmless, fairly neutral stimulus. It is one of the most used objects in one’s life.
However, someone suffering from Papyrophobia will get terrified at the sight of it.
They not only fear touching it, but also seeing it. Though some realise that their fear is irrational, they are unable to control it.
Sufferers choose an easy way out for escaping anxiety.
To eliminate anxiety, one will avoid coming in contact with paper..
This avoidance is repeated by an individual and he constantly acts this way because of the pleasant feelings it produces and the sense of security it gives.
The recurrent act of avoidance can turn into compulsions, causing one to develop OCD in the future.
As the DSM-V suggests, anxiety that leads to avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid going to school or office because of the fear of encountering papers.
They will also refrain from leaving their house in order to get less exposed to their fear stimuli.
Someone suffering from Papyrophobia is very likely to suffer from depression in the long run.
Papyrophobia is the irrational fear of paper. The name originates from the Greek word ‘papyro’ meaning paper and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Papyrophobia
Anxiety is a symptom, common in all specific phobias, including Papyrophobia.
People with this irrational fear of paper 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 Papyrophobia, which are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of papers
- Extreme anxiety caused by the thought about papers
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Frequently avoiding papers
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Feeling of an impending doom
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Mouth drying up
Causes of Papyrophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Papyrophobia 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 Papyrophobia 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 Papyrophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of papers.
Someone who fears germs (Mysophobia) will avoid touching paper because they can act as a medium for the transmission of diseases.
Currently, the Coronavirus epidemic is one of the biggest reasons why one can develop Papyrophobia.
A coronavirus sufferer can easily transmit this virus to someone healthy by infecting the paper he touches with the virus.
Therefore, as a precautionary measure, people avoid touching papers or wash their hands after coming in contact with it due to the fear of catching the virus.
One is very likely to develop Papyrophobia because of the ongoing epidemic.
Additionally, the fear of money (Chrometophobia) can also be the reason why one develops Papyrophobia because of the same reason mentioned above.
Someone who fears wooden objects (Xylophobia) and or trees (Dendrophobia) are very likely to develop this irrational fear of papers because papers are made from trees/wood.
One can also be afraid of touching papers because maybe they got a papercut in the past.
The stinging feeling one feels due to it can lead to Papyrophobia because one thinks he’ll get a cut everytime he touches paper.
This also shows that someone with Hemophobia (fear of blood) is very likely to have Papyrophobia because of the papercut one got.
Therefore, Papyrophobia is caused by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Papyrophobia
Papyrophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Papyrophobia 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 Papyrophobia (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, an online picture of paper 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 exposed to paper.
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 paper, in a book for example.
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 paper, 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.
Papyrophobia is defined as the irrational fear of paper. 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 Papyrophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Papyrophobia.
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 Papyrophobia, 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 paper.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Papyrophobia.
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 Papyrophobia, 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
by Alicia H. Clark and Jon Sternfeld
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How common is papyrophobia?
It is an irrational fear of paper. It is a very rare phobia as compared to other types of specific phobias.
Q2) What causes Papyrophobia?
A genetic predisposition and or environmental factors can lead one to have Papyrophobia.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Papyrophobia?
Extreme anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, breathlessness are some of the symptoms one may experience in Papyrophobia
Q4) Is Papyrophobia curable?
Yes. Like all other specific phobias, Papyrophobia too can be treated using a number of cognitive therapies and or medicinal drugs. .
Examples of other interesting phobias
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