What is Rhytiphobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Rhytiphobia.
Fear of getting wrinkles is called Rhytiphobia. Wrinkles are mostly seen as a sign of ageing or growing old.
They are a part of the natural process within our body. They appear as one starts to age.
Women are more conscious about the way they look. Their consciousness accelerates as their age increases.
It is no lie that everyone wants to look pretty and fresh because one’s beauty is judged based on the way they look.
Normally, women or girls get worried if they see wrinkles on their face, for that they try creams or medical procedures to get rid of them.
But unlike in Rhytiphobia, they don’t feel anxious.
Rhytiphobia is classified as a specific phobia, under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Thus, someone suffering from it undergoes extreme anxiety when exposed to wrinkles or thinking about them.
This excess anxiety and fear causes hindrances in the sufferers day-to-day activities, which are called as the social occupational functioning in the DSM-V.
This inability to carry a normal routine is because of the acts of avoidance one does in order to avoid wrinkles.
For example, one will avoid getting exposed to the sun or sunlight because of the fear that they’re skin will get damaged and they’ll have wrinkles.
Due to this one might develop Heliophobia (fear of sun or sunlight).
Additionally, one will use anti-wrinkle and or anti-ageing creams and face masks very frequently.
They’ll get medical procedures done to remove or avoid wrinkles, even if it’s expensive or harmful to one’s skin.
They will look at themselves excessively in the mirror and will always be conscious of the way they look.
This exaggerated worry and acts to avoid wrinkles can result in one suffering from a lot of mental anguish.
Because actions of avoiding the fear stimuli (wrinkles) are repetitive, a sufferer can develop OCD and or depression in the future.
At times, when avoiding wrinkles becomes impossible, one suffers from extremely high levels of anxiety which might result in full-blown panic attacks.
Rhytiphobia is an irrational fear of wrinkles. One is fearful of having them on their face or skin, which is a sign of ageing.
The name of this specific phobia originated from the Greek word ‘rhyti’ meaning wrinkles and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Rhytiphobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, have anxiety as their pivotal symptom.
Therefore, someone suffering from Rhytiphobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli, wrinkles.
Specific phobias are irrational fears. Similarly, this fear of wrinkles is completely irrational because wrinkles cause no potential harm to anyone or their health.
Their fear is out of touch with reality and thus, are unable to justify their phobia.
Avoidance as mentioned earlier is repetitive.
These recurrent actions maintain one’s fear by producing feelings of security, which makes one believe that wrinkles are to be feared of.
According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with Rhytiphobia, one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and at least 3-5 symptoms (from the list mentioned below).
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to wrinkles
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about wrinkles
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding wrinkles
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
Causes of Rhytiphobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real/definite cause.
They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors.
According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders has a higher chance of developing Rhytiphobia.
This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him.
An imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels of the brain can also be one of the many reasons as to why one develops Rhytiphoia.
These alterations are low dopamine levels and high serotonin levels.
This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship.
This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Rhytiphobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event.
Someone who has a fear of ageing (Gerascophobia) and or Gerontophobia (fear of old people or turning old) is very likely to develop this irrational fear of wrinkles.
Also, chances of developing Rhytiphobia increase if someone has Atelophobia (fear of imperfection) and or Cacophobia (fear of ugliness).
These phobias are more prevalent in women, especially models who get work based on their physical appearance and appeal.
Models or actors have a mental pressure on them to look beautiful and young all the time.
If one gets old or loses their ‘beauty’ because of ageing or wrinkles, they are replaced by someone else in the industry.
Therefore, they are very prone to develop Rhytiphobia.
Additionally, a woman who fears her husband will leave him because of her wrinkles (to them, a sign of becoming less beautiful) will also suffer from this irrational fear.
In this case, women who are older than their husbands are more susceptible because of the fact that they want to look younger than their husband because of marital or societal pressure.
Advertisements of anti-ageing/anti-wrinkle creams also play a significant role in causing Rhytiphobia.
To sell their product they instill into people’s mind that wrinkles are a sign of one becoming less beautiful.
They advertise this concept so much that people start to believe in what they see and hear. Developing Rhytiphobia as a result.
Thus, Rhytiphobia has no definite cause. Genetics and environmental factors play equal roles.
Treatment of Rhytiphobia
Rhytiphobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Rhytiphobia is treated by a number of different methods: Psychological treatment and Biological treatment.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Rhytiphobia is defined as the irrational fear of wrinkles. 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.
• 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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Rhytiphobia (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 someone with wrinkles 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 developed wrinkles.
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 wrinkles (someone else’s or their own).
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 wrinkles, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
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 Rhytiphobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of wrinkles.
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 Rhytiphobia. 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Rhytiphobia, 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 about their fear stimuli.
- Biological Treatment
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Rhytiphobia. 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. 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.
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 Rhytiphobia, 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).
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Rhytiphobia?
It is an irrational fear of wrinkles.
Q2) What is the difference between Gerontophobia and Gerascophobia?
Gerontophobia is the irrational fear of old people/ageing. Gerascophobia is the irrational fear of getting old. Both are specific phobias but different from each other in terms of their target fear.
Q3) Do I have Rhytiphobia?
One must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months, panic attacks, tremors, upset stomach and many other symptoms, to be diagnosed with Rhytiphobia.
Q4) Is Rhytiphobia curable?
Yes. By using treatments like medicinal drugs, CBT, DBT and many other psychotherapies, one’s Rhytiphobia can be treated