What is Pyrophobia? (An overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Pyrophobia.
An intense fear of fire is called Pyrophobia. 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 exposed to fire.
Even the thought of fire can instigate very high levels of anxiety. One can even undergo full-blown panic attacks if the condition worsens.
Fire is hazardous and potentially threatening. Children are told to stay away from it and adults to take precautions while working with fire.
People normally fear fire because of the damage it can cause. Thus, Pyrophobia is not wholly irrational.
However, someone suffering from Pyrophobia will get extremely terrified and stressed when around/thinking about fire.
Their fear gets so intense that one might require hospitalization.
In order to avoid these unpleasant, intrusive thoughts and actions a sufferer avoids getting exposed to fire in any way.
Acts of avoidance are frequently repeated because it makes one feel safe. This also maintains one’s phobia, which can get severe as time progresses.
Recurrent acts of avoidance lead to one developing OCD in the future.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety that causes avoidance in Pyrophobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid going in the kitchen or near the stove to avoid fire. This can lead to one developing a fear of cooking (Mageirocophobia).
A sufferer will refrain from sitting near or stepping foot in a room with a fireplace, even in the winter season.
Someone suffering from Pyrophobia will also avoid going to restaurants or places they think might lead to getting exposed to fire.
Extreme anxiety and excessive acts of avoidance can cause one to have depression.
Pyrophobia is an irrational fear of fire. The name originates from the Greek word ‘pyr’ meaning fire and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
This type of specific phobia is very common.
Symptoms of Pyrophobia
People with Pyrophobia, like in all other specific phobias, experience intense anxiety when exposed to fire.
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.
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.
Symptoms one suffers from in Pyrophobia, including anxiety are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when exposed to fire
- Extreme anxiety when thinking of fire
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding fire
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
Out of these, one should experience at least 3-5 symptoms, including anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Pyrophobia.
Causes of Pyrophobia
Pyrophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause. In this phobia, one is fearful of fire because of the potential harm it can cause one.
Specific 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/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 Pyrophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This trigger event can be for example, a past traumatic experience. Someone might’ve gotten burned or suffered injuries due to fire.
One may have seen a fire accident in front of their eyes with their parents/someone else, leading them to develop Pyrophobia.
Listening to or watching news reports of incidents about fire accidents can lead to one fear of fire.
Also, someone with overprotective parents can also develop this irrational fear of fire because since childhood they are told to stay away from fires or heat.
Therefore, Pyrophobia is caused by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Pyrophobia
Pyrophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Pyrophobia 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 Mageirocophobia (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 fire, 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 sees fire.
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 fire, for example told to stand near a fireplace.
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 fire, 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.
Pyrophobia is defined as the irrational fear of fire. 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 fire.
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 Pyrophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this 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 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.
• 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, 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 Pyrophobia.
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:
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.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Pyrophobia, 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 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 about fire.
Whether the cause of Pyrophobia, 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
by Russ Harris, Steven Hayes PhD (foreword), et al.
by Dr Chukwunenye Onuoha
- Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: Dynamic Techniques for Turning Fear, Indecision, and Anger into Power, Action, and Love
by Susan Jeffers PhD and Hay House
by Gregory L. PhD Jantz and Ann McMurray
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is the fear of fire called?
Pyrophobia is the irrational fear of fire. It is a type of specific phobias.
Q2) Is Pyrophobia curable?
Yes. Therapies like EMDR, and or exposure therapy are effective in treating all specific phobias including Pyrophobia.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Pyrophobia?
One will experience extreme anxiety, panic attacks, nausea and or breathlessness including other physiological symptoms.
Q4) How is Pyrophobia caused?
A genetic predisposition or environmental factors can be the reason for why one develops Pyrophobia
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.
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