Heights, snakes, and enclosed spaces top the list of the most common phobias, but they are far from the only things that affect people. What about the less common phobias? What about the fears that are very rational, yet haven’t made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5? One example is athazagoraphobia. Can you guess what it is?
Athazagoraphobia is a pretty common fear, and most people who have it can live a perfectly normal and healthy life. If athazagoraphobia or any type of phobia begin to hold you back from daily activities or holding a job, however, it might be time to seek professional help.
What Is Athazagoraphobia?
Athazagoraphobia is the fear of forgetting someone, or the fear of being forgotten. Some experts also define it as the fear of being replaced or ignored. This phobia is commonly linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it doesn't have to be.
Over five million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia each year. You or someone you know may have a parent or grandparent affected by these conditions.
Maybe you are afraid that you will develop Alzheimer’s or dementia and forget your friends and family. Instead, maybe you are afraid that a parent, spouse, or loved one will develop these conditions and forget you. All of these fears are related to athazagoraphobia.
What Causes Athazagoraphobia?
There is no one cause of athazagoraphobia or any phobia. Genetics and environment can both play into the development of specific phobias. If a family member has anxiety disorders or depression, you may be more likely to develop similar conditions or a phobia.
Traumatic brain injuries may cause phobias.
Stressful or traumatic events as a child may also cause phobias. If you have an early memory of visiting a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, that memory may stick with you for a long time. Maybe you remember the pain that your parents felt during this time. Maybe you were traumatized - a grandparent that you loved all of a sudden could not recognize you. The traumatic event may not be tied to an older relative or dementia at all. Maybe you were forgotten at the bus stop one day or read a story about a child who was forgotten. This could be enough to instill the fear of forgetting others or being forgotten.
These events may be big or small. They may be considered “traumatic” by some and “normal” by others. What is important is that a patient identifies these environmental factors and memories, and uses them to move forward and manage their fears of being forgotten.
What Are the Symptoms of Athazagoraphobia?
Fears manifest themselves in many different ways. People may also experience varying degrees of different phobias, depending on their mood, stress levels, and proximity to the situation that is causing them anxiety. Athazagoraphobia may be mild, but may also be directly related to some more serious symptoms, including:
- Panic attacks
- Increased blood pressure or heart rate
Someone with athazagoraphobia may also display strange behaviors or withdraw from social situations. Their fear of being forgotten may, ironically, cause them to isolate themselves. A person with athazagoraphobia may also lose their ability to focus because they are so concentrated on their fear. In the most severe cases, athazagoraphobia may lead to the loss of a job or an inability to go attend social functions.
Can You Be Diagnosed with Athazagoraphobia?
It’s a pretty scary world out there. There are a lot of things that may keep you up at night. Or maybe there is one thing in particular that keeps you up: a phobia, or fear or something. The National Institute of Mental Health predicts that 12.5% of American adults experience a phobia at some point in their life. The DSM-5 does recognize that people can have specific phobias, but they do not have a list of every phobia that a person can have. (That list could take up encyclopedias!)
Instead, the DSM-5 has categories of phobias, as well as criteria that psychologists can use to determine whether a patient has a specific phobia.
The five types of specific phobias are:
- Natural Environment
- Blood-injection injury
The fear of certain places or situations is known as agoraphobia, so one might put athazagoraphobia in the “situational” category.
Do I Have Athazagoraphobia?
In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, psychologists will have to answer the following questions:
- Is there a marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation?
- Does the situation almost always provoke immediate fear or anxiety?
- Is the fear out of proportion to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation?
- Does the patient actively avoid or endure with intense fear or anxiety?
- Does the fear cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning?
- Do symptoms last for six months or more?
- Is the fear not better explained by a different type of mental disorder?
If the answer to all of these questions are yes, then a therapist may recognize your fear as athazagoraphobia. But there is a difference between feeling uncomfortable with the idea of forgetting someone and actively avoiding the situation and experiencing clinically significant distress over the situation. If you are still able to go to work, see friends, and live a normal life, you can find ways to manage your discomfort and fear without worry.
How to Manage The Fear of Being Forgotten
If you believe you are experiencing Athazagoraphobia, evaluate your symptoms. Do you feel unusually anxious when faced with the thought of being forgotten or alone? Have you felt this anxiety over the period of a few months? Can you go about your daily life, even while thinking about these fears?
If your symptoms are severe, reach out to a mental professional. They will be able to help you get back on track and assess whether or not your fears are tied to another mental condition. Managing your anxiety or depression may be the key to letting go of these specific fears.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will make athazagoraphobia go away. The best thing that you can do is manage your fear. Fear management may be approached in many different ways:
- Engaging in yoga or meditation
- Managing overall stress in your daily life
- Maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise routine, and good night’s sleep
- Writing out your thoughts in a journal
- Attending support groups
If your fear of forgetting someone is tied to a history of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family, you may be able to attend a local support group with friends and family of Alzheimer’s patients. Talking through your fears and experiences will show you that you are not alone in your struggle.
Do not be afraid to reach out for help. The only way to manage your fear is to take action, whether that is visiting a mental health professional or identifying and avoiding triggers that set off your anxiety.
Similar Fears to Athazagoraphobia
There are no specific phobias of Alzheimer’s or dementia themselves - these fears may be considered Athazagoraphobia. But there are a few fears that are quite similar to the fear of being forgotten or forgetting people.
Anthrophobia, for example, is the fear of people. This phobia is often confused with social phobia, the fear of social situations. But these two fears are quite different. Someone with a social phobia may feel comfortable if they are ignored in a crowded room. If you have anthrophobia, you may be afraid in crowds, in one-on-one situations, or among people that you already know very well.
Autophobia is the fear of being alone or isolated. A person with autophobia may not be as afraid of being physically alone as they are of being emotionally or mentally alone. They may fear that they will feel emotional loneliness even in a crowded room or their childhood home surrounded by family.
Gelotophobia is the fear of being laughed at, which can be a truly isolating experience.
These fears are just a small handful of the fears that people can experience due to anxiety, depression, and traumatic experiences. If you are experiencing a fear that is holding you back from life, reach out to a mental health professional.