What is Taphephobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Taphephobia.
The fear of being buried alive or of cemeteries is called Taphephobia.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this type of phobia will experience extreme anxiety when they see or think about burial or visit a cemetery.
One can also have full blown panic attacks if this anxiety worsens.
Sufferers find the thought of being buried alive or visiting a cemetery to be extremely terrifying.
Someone suffering from Taphephobia, like in all other specific phobias avoid their fear stimuli.
They do so in order to lessen their anxiety. This causes one to feel nice and calm, therefore avoidance is repeated.
One can develop OCD as a result.
According to the DSM-V, this extreme anxiety which persuades one to avoid their fear stimuli affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, a sufferer will avoid going to the cemetery even if one of his family members died.
He will resist attending the burial ceremony because of his fear.
This can upset or offend other members of his family, which can weaken the ties between the sufferer and his loved ones.
Because of the panic attacks one suffers from in Taphephobia, an individual might need hospitalization.
This can affect his career and academic life because attending school or going to office will be difficult due to the deteriorating health status of the sufferer.
Thus, one can also have depression in the future.
Taphephobia is the irrational fear of being buried alive or visiting a cemetery. The word originated from a Greek word ‘taphos’ (grave) and ‘phobos’ (fear).
Symptoms of Taphephobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Taphephobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of being buried alive suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well.
Such as increased heartbeat or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks of being buried or when visiting a cemetery, he 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)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Sufferers of Taphephobia experience symptoms in different ways.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Taphephobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when they think they’re being buried alive or visiting a cemetery
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding cemeteries
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Taphephobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Taphephobia
Like every other specific phobia, Taphephobia 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 Taphephobia 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 Taphephobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear related to being buried alive or visiting a cemetery.
Other phobias can also lead to Taphephobia. Achluphobia (fear of darkness), fear of insects and or fear of death can either cause Taphephobia or vice versa.
An environmental trigger event can be a past traumatic experience. For example, as a child someone saw a burial ceremony of their loved ones, thus they became fearful.
Or they might have experienced a near to death experience by being buried alive (in extreme cases).
Media reports also play a crucial role in causing Taphephobia.
News coverage about girls being buried alive or incidents like these can also trigger fear in one.
Treatment of Taphephobia
Taphephobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Taphephobia 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.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Taphephobia is defined as the irrational fear of being buried alive/visiting cemeteries.
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.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Taphephobia.
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 Taphephobia, 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.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Taphephobia.
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 suggest 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.
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
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 Taphephobia, 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 Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford
- Stress Management and Anxiety Relief: Tips and Tricks for Mindfulness and Resilience to Fear in Hard Times
by N. Robert
by Paul Foxman, Ph.D.
- 101 Ways to Stop Anxiety: Practical Exercises to Find Peace and Free Yourself from Fears, Phobias, Panic Attacks, and Freak-Outs
by Tanya J. Peterson
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Taphephobia?
It is an irrational fear of being buried alive or visiting a cemetery.
It is a type of specific phobia in which one experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli.
Q2) What causes Taphephobia?
It is caused by either a genetic predisposition or an environmental trigger event.
Q3) How is Taphephobia treated?
Like all other specific phobias, Taphephobia is treated using NLP, CBT and medicinal drugs.
Q4) Do I have Taphephobia?
If someone has symptoms that match the criteria of specific phobias in the DSM-V, one can be diagnosed with Taphephobia.
These include, extreme anxiety, panic attacks, increased heart rate, hyperventilation etc.
Examples of other interesting phobias