What is Xylophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Xylophobia.
An intense fear of wooden objects or forest is called Xylophobia. 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 not just when exposed to wooden objects or forest, but the mere thought of them can instigate anxiety.
If the condition worsens, one can also undergo panic attacks.
Xylophobia is not the same as Selachophobia (fear of sharks) or Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes).
This is because, unlike these animals, forests and wooden objects are not harmful or dangerous.
Instead, forests are a necessity for the earth. Without forests our ecosystem can get severely affected and they are needed to provide animals/humans with shelter and oxygen.
Someone suffering from Xylophobia, however, sees forests as an anxiety triggering stimuli.
Though some realise that their fear is irrational, they are unable to control it. Sufferers choose an easy way out for escaping anxiety.
They avoid getting exposed to or thinking about wooden objects/forests.
This avoidance is repeated by an individual and he constantly acts this way because of the pleasant feelings it produces and the sense of security it gives.
The recurrent act of avoidance can turn into compulsions, causing one to develop OCD in the future.
As the DSM-V suggests, anxiety that leads to avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid living in a rural area or near a forest and choose to live in a more populated city. They will even hesitate in crossing a forest by car.
As a child, one will avoid using a wooden pencil because he feels terrified. An individual will also be reluctant to sleep on a wooden bed, eat ona wooden table or sit on a wooden chair.
Someone suffering from Xylophobia is very likely to suffer from depression in the long run.
Xylophobia is the irrational fear of wooden objects or forests. It is a type of specific phobia in which one feels extreme anxiety when exposed to his fear stimuli.
The name originates from the Greek words ‘xylo’ meaning wood and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Xylophobia
Anxiety is a symptom, common in all specific phobias, including Xylophobia.
People with this irrational fear of wooden objects/forests can become extremely anxious in their presence or by their thought.
This might even cause them to have full-blown panic attacks, requiring hospitalization if the condition worsens.
According to the DSM-V, one must have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. In addition to anxiety, one also suffers from a number of different physiological symptoms.
One’s experience of their fear varies from person to person. This is because individuals process the same stimuli differently, based on their past experiences.
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.
According to the DSM-V, one must experience at least 3-5 of the symptoms listed below to be diagnosed with Xylophobia, which are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of wooden objects/forests
- Extreme anxiety caused by the thought about wooden objects/forests
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Frequently avoiding wooden objects/forests
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Feeling of an impending doom
- Muscle tension
- Increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Mouth drying up
Causes of Xylophobia
Xylophobia can be a result of either a genetic predisposition or environmental factors.
If someone has a genetic predisposition or a family history of anxiety disorders, they are more likely to develop a specific phobia.
This is because they have an inborn tendency to have Xylophobia, triggered by an environmental factor (Diathesis-stress relationship).
Other phobias that are related to Xylophobia can also be the reason why one develops it.
For example, someone with Dendrophobia (fear of trees) will be fearful of wooden objects or forests because of their association with trees.One can be fearful of forests because they might be scared of trees.
Maybe because they tripped over it’s long roots or got cut by the sharp edges of a tree trunk.
One who has fear of the dark, Hylophobia (fear of forests) or Nyctohylophobia (fear of dark wooded areas/forest at night) will also be terrified when exposed to wooden objects/forests because of these specific phobias.
Environmental factors include a past-traumatic event. Someone might develop a fear for wooden objects/forests based on an unpleasant, scary experience they might’ve had.
For example, a child might have suffered an injury because of a wooden object or heard someone else have it.
Another reason can be hearing stories about forests. People often are afraid of going in a forest because of the tales children read in their childhood about dangerous or enchanted forests etc.
Even the films one sees have stories about how trees in a forest can talk or attack someone and the dark powers they hold.
Sufferers can develop a fear for wooden objects because maybe they are terrified of the way trees (living things) are cut and transformed into objects.
Someone with a fear of animals (Zoophobia) or insects (Insectophobia) will be afraid of using wooden items because they feel disgusted by the fact that many insects or animals might have touched the wood, the object is made of.
They’ll fear forests because it is home to thousands of different animals and insects.
Additionally, someone suffering from Xylophobia will not only be afraid of going near a forest or visit it in the dark, but the sight of it in the day will also seem daunting to them and cause extreme anxiety.
The very site of forests is unbearable to them, whether day or night, unlike Nyctohylophobia (fear of dark wooded areas/forest at night).
Therefore, it is evident that there is no one real cause as to why one develops Xylophobia because every individual perceives their fear of wooden objects/forests in a different way, due to a number of various reasons.
However, it is assumed that genetic factors combined with these personal experiences cause Xylophobia.
Treatment of Xylophobia
Xylophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Xylophobia is treated by a number of 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 Xylophobia (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 wooden objects/forests 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 encounters a wooden object/forest.
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 wooden objects (such as a pencil) and forests.
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of pain 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 pain 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 wooden objects/forests, by exposing them 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.
Xylophobia is defined as the irrational fear of wooden objects/forests. 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 their fear stimuli.
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 (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 Xylophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of Xylophobia.
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 smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory 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.
• 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 Xylophobia, 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 for 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 wooden objects/forests.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Xylophobia.
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
These include medicines like Klonopin.
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.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs as the name suggest 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 Xylophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is with using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
by Alicia H. Clark and Jon Sternfeld
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is the fear of toothpicks called?
Because a toothpick is a wooden object, thus the fear of wooden objects is called Xylophobia.
Q2) Why are people afraid of the woods?
Because woods are associated with trees and darkness. Someone who fears both is likely to suffer from an irrational fear of wooden objects.
Q3) ) Is Xylophobia treatable?
Yes. Xylophobia can be treated by a number of different therapies including cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy or Dialectical behavioral therapy.
Medicines can also be taken under a doctors’ prescription.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Xylophobia?
Xylophobia can be identified by a number of symptoms such as extreme anxiety, inability to control that anxiety, panic attacks or muscle tension.
Examples of other interesting phobias
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