What is Testophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Testophobia.
An intense fear of taking tests is called Testophobia.
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 tests.
Even the thought of giving a test/examination can lead to a lot of stress. If the condition worsens, panic attacks can follow.
Someone who has Testophobia will be fearful of giving a test because they develop low self esteem.
One has very negative thoughts about themselves and their abilities, thus, they are fearful of losing or failing every test they give.
Low levels of self-confidence produce extreme anxiety.
In order to get rid of these unpleasant thoughts and feelings, one avoids giving tests.
Avoidance is what maintains their fear and proves to them that tests are to be feared of. Therefore, this is repetitive.
Repeated actions that lead to avoidance can cause one to develop OCD in the future.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, a child will skip school on the day of exam and or test. He won’t be able to achieve good marks and end up lacking in the career opportunities they’ll have.
One will take up less difficult jobs, which require less or no use of knowledge. For instance manual labour.
A sufferer in Testophobia seeks tasks that they believe are less difficult and knowledge based.
This lack of self-esteem is what can cause one to develop depression in the future.
Testophobia is an irrational fear of taking tests. Sufferers get extremely anxious when exposed to their fear stimuli.
They fear the possible results of the tests they’ll give to come out against them.
Symptoms of Testophobia
People with Testophobia, like in all other phobias, experience intense anxiety when exposed to tests.
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.
The sufferer 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) or stay and combat their fear (fight).
In the case of Testophobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when taking tests (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.
Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.
Including anxiety, Testophobia has a number of other physiological symptoms which include:
- Extreme anxiety when taking tests
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about tests
- Avoiding taing tests
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Feelings of dizziness
- Screaming or crying
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus)
- Upset stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety) to be diagnosed with Testophobia, according to the DSM-V.
Causes of Testophobia
Testophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause.
These types of 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/phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Testophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of tests.
A trigger event, instigating extreme anxiety can be a past traumatic experience. For example, as a child one might have failed tests in his school or initial years of exams.
Since then they may have developed a fear of failing every time they give a test.
To one, giving tests would mean proving to the world that they lack abilities and skills others have. A sufferer will be fearful of being judged or scrutinized by people/society.
Therefore, Sociophobia (fear of society/people) can also be the reason why one develops Testophobia.
Additionally, looking at others or hearing about incidents where one’s life suffered due to their lacking in educational qualifications can also be one of the many reasons to have Testophobia.
Therefore, Testophobia is caused by a number of environmental factors, accompanied by a genetic predisposition.
Treatment of Testophobia
Testophobia, like all other phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, this phobia 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.
Testophobia is defined as the irrational fear of taking tests. 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 tests.
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, 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 Testophobia, 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 of their fear stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Testophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this phobia.
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 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.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Testophobia.
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 Diazepam 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.
Whether the cause of Testophobia, 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 Jarnail Singh and Janardhan Singh
- Mastery of your Specific Phobia
by Martin M. Antony, Michelle G. Craske, et al
by Alicia H. Clark and Jon Sternfeld
- Anxiety Relief: A Complete Guide to Eliminate Negative Thinking, Stress, Dерrеѕѕiоn, Anger and Panic Attасkѕ
by Elliot Wood and Bill Franchuk
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What happens if you have Testophobia?
One gets extremely anxious when exposed to tests, which might lead to full-blown panic attacks.
Q2) What phobia is the fear of taking tests?
Testophobia is the irrational fear of taking tests.
Q3) How common is test anxiety?
Around 18% of the adults are affected by anxiety disorders.
However, many children get anxiety when exams are around.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.