What is Thermophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Thermophobia.
An intense fear of heat is called Thermophobia. 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 heat.
Not just the exposure but a mere thought of encountering heat can instigate anxiety. If anxiety intensifies, one can also undergo panic attacks.
To eliminate these unpleasant feelings, one tends to avoid his fear stimuli, heat.
Though heat can cause skin burns, allergies or dehydration and normally, one avoids coming in contact with it.
But, in Thermophobia one takes this avoidance to an increased level and the anxiety one feels is excessive.
Avoidance is a way one uses to escape anxiety and stress. The feelings it produces are so pleasant that one continues to repeat these acts.
This repetition can change into compulsions and someone suffering from Thermophobia can also develop OCD.
The DSM-V suggests, anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, a sufferer will choose to live in a cold climate country as compared to a hot,tropical one to have very less/no encounter with heat.
They might shift and live independently, leaving their family members behind to move to a cooler place.
One will avoid stepping out of the house during the day or in summers. They will prefer staying in their own rooms during these times of the year, with their air conditioners on.
This will not only affect their own physical and mental health, but will also cause problems to their family because of the high amounts of bills they’ll have to pay.
A sufferers career also gets severely affected.
Because one doesn’t leave his house when they feel they’ll encounter heat, they won’t be able to attend school or office, especially if these places don’t have air conditioners to lessen heat.
They will keep themselves hydrated with cold beverages and food instead of eating hot ones.
Though this is healthy for one, eating an excess amount can cause health related problems.
Thermophobia is an abnormal and irrational fear of heat/hot objects. They suffer from extreme anxiety when exposed to heat.
Symptoms of Thermophobia
As with all the other specific phobias, anxiety is the main symptom of Thermophobia. This irrational fear is the driving force which encourages sufferers to avoid heat.
This avoidance can be stressful because they will put in all their efforts to escape a fearful situation.
As mentioned earlier, this is what affects their social relations and occupations.
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) or stay and combat their fear (fight).
In the case of Thermophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to heat (including extreme anxiety) causes 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, Thermophobia also causes a number of other symptoms in the sufferer.
They are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of heat (situation/object)
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about heat (situation/object)
- Avoiding heat (situation/object)
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate
- Feeling dizzy
- 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).
- Drying up of mouth
- Butterflies in the stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Thermophobia.
Causes of Thermophobia
Thermophobia is a specific phobia, thus it is caused by relatively the same reasons as other phobias.
This irrational fear of heat can be a result of a childhood trauma or unpleasant experience with it.
For example, a child might have fallen sick because of excess sweating/dehydration it causes.
Other reasons can be for example the association one does of heat (a fairly neutral stimuli) with something emotionally shattering or disturbing.
A child might have lost his parents or one of them because they fell sick due to heat, for example by dehydration or some kind of skin problems.
This event may have led him to associate this neutral stimuli (heat) with his parents’ death. Now every time he experiences heat, it reminds him of his parents’ loss.
Someone can also be fearful of heat or touching hot objects because they might’ve suffered burn injuries.
Another example can be, watching media reports or stats on the adverse effects heat has on people’s lives.
Childhood experiences are more important and highly discussed in phobias because this the time when most of the people develop fears or phobias due to an unpleasant event.
They might not develop phobia at that age, but the events that led to this fear are more commonly experienced when a child.
This is so because at this age one’s personality is still developing and the stimuli or events that seem normal or neutral to us might be very emotionally overwhelming to them.
Thus, the effects of childhood events are long lasting and even a small trigger can produce a phobia, later on in a person’s life.
Apart from past traumatic events, genetics also plays an important role in the formation of a phobia.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Thermophobia 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 Thermophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear related to heat.
One may develop this intense fear of heat because of other fears. Someone who fears dying will be fearful of getting dehydrated or burned when touching a hot object.
Also, they may develop Thermophobia because of their fear of sweating.
Heliophobia (fear of sun) and or fear of fire can also result in one suffering from Thermophobia.
But it is important to note that there is no definite explanation as of why one develops phobias. It can be either due to genetics, post traumatic events or both.
Treatment of Thermophobia
Like all the other specific phobias, Thermophobia is treated by a number of different 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 Thermophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his/her fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture for example, of hot items.
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 encounters heat/touches a hot object.
During the 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/she is then exposed to real heat.
For example, taken to a desert or beach on a sunny day.
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 heat, by being exposed 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.
Thermophobia is defined as the irrational fear of heat/hot objects. 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 heat.
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 (anecdotes) 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 Thermophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Thermophobia.
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, 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 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 Thermophobia, 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 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 heat.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Thermophobia.
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:
These include medicines called Diazepam.
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.
These drugs as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Zoloft 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 Thermophobia, 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 Elena Welsh PhD
- The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity
by Melanie Greenberg PhD
- Stress Relief Survival Guide: Fast, Easy, Totally Natural Techniques & Real Life Tips from A Combat Veteran ER Doctor
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Is there a phobia of heat?
Thermophobia is the irrational fear of heat or hot objects.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Q2) What are the symptoms of Thermophobia?
Thermophobia is diagnosed if one has extreme anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of dizziness, nausea, increased heart beat and other symptoms.
Q3) How is Thermophobia treated?
Like in all other specific phobias, psychotherapies like exposure therapy, CBT, DBT and or medicinal drugs can treat Thermophobia.
Q4) What causes Thermophobia?
Either a genetic predisposition (family history) and or environmental factors (past traumatic events) can be the reasons why one develops Thermophobia.
Examples of other interesting phobias