In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Vestiphobia.
What is Vestiphobia?
Vestiphobia is an extreme fear of clothing. The word Vestiphobia comes from the Latin word vestis, which means clothing, garment or covering, and someone with this phobia might find themselves being very picky about the kind of clothes they do wear. Vestiphobia can also often lead to claustrophobia, which is a fear of enclosed spaces, especially when the person wears tight clothes.
An intense fear of clothing is called Vestiphobia. 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 clothing.
Not just the exposure but the mere thought of getting exposed to clothes can instigate anxiety. If the anxiety worsens, one can undergo panic attacks.
To get rid of these unpleasant feelings, one avoids coming in contact with clothes. This avoidance is repeated because of the satisfaction and relief it gives to one from their anxiety.
Repeated actions can turn into compulsions, developing OCD in the long run.
As the DSM-V suggests, anxiety and avoidance caused in Vestiphobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one might refuse to wear clothes at all. Because of this, they will be unable to leave their house or meet other people.
They will prefer staying unclothed and therefore, wil be isolated in their rooms.
This isolation can cause one to develop depression in the future.
Vestiphobia is an irrational, abnormal fear of clothing. The name originates from a Latin word ‘vest’ meaning clothes and Greek word ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Vestiphobia
People with Vestiphobia, like in all other specific phobias, experience intense anxiety when exposed to clothes.
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 Vestiphobia, including anxiety are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety when exposed to clothes
- Extreme anxiety when thinking of clothes
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding wearing clothes
- 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 Vestiphobia.
Causes of Vestiphobia
Vestiphobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause. In this phobia, one is fearful of clothing because they fear it might cause itching or some kind of skin allergy.
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 Vestiphobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This trigger event can be for example, someone might be afraid of having an itch when wearing them.
Or, as a child one may have developed a skin allergy/rash because of the clothes they wore.
Military men are more likely to develop this phobia because they associate the uneasiness of wearing bullet proof jackets with all other clothes.
People who suffer from Claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) may feel a choking sensation when they wear tight clothes.
Therefore, they avoid wearing clothes in general.
Treatment of Vestiphobia
Vestiphobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Vestiphobia 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.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Vestiphobia is defined as the irrational fear of clothing. 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 clothes.
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 Vestiphobia.
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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Vestiphobia (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 clothes, 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 is wearing clothes.
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 clothes.
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 clothes, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• 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 Vestiphobia.
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. Anti-anxiety Drugs
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 Vestiphobia, 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 clothes.
Whether the cause of Vestiphobia, 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
- Overcoming Specific Phobia – Therapist Protocol: A Hierarchy and Exposure-Based Protocol for the Treatment of All Specific Phobias
by Edmund J. Bourne PhD and Matthew McKay PhD
by Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Brett J. Deacon, et a
by Jarnail Singh and Janardhan Singh
by Martin M. Antony, Michelle G. Craske, et al
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Vestiphobia?
It is an irrational fear of clothes.
It derives from a Latin word ‘vestis’ meaning clothing and Greek word ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Q2) How is Vestiphobia treated?
Like all other specific phobias, Vestiphobia is treated using a number of cognitive therapies including, CBT, DBT, exposure therapy and medicinal drugs.
Q3) Do I have Vestiphobia?
If someone is experiencing extreme anxiety for at least 6-months accompanied with panic attacks, one might be suffering from Vestiphobia.
Along with these, one also experiences other physiological symptoms including dizziness, nausea, increased heartbeat etc.
Q4) How is Vestiphobia caused?
One can have Vestiphobia either due to some genetic predisposition (family history) or some environmental factor (past-traumatic event).
Examples of other interesting phobias