Could you imagine a life where everything around you makes you panic, your heart race, or just generally on edge? It sounds terrible and terrifying, but for some individuals being afraid of our world is a reality. They could fear of having an accident, going to the grocery store, humiliating oneself in an interaction or something as benign as blue velvet chairs as well as many many more fears. Although rare, it can occur.
The fear of everything is called Pantophobia, and has now been characterized Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Today, Pantophobia is not exactly acknowledged as a single disorder. Instead, it is seen more as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or panic disorder, but for centuries this phobia was defined as having an extreme and debilitating fear of everything. Back then it was used for individuals who demonstrated persistent and difficult to control anxiety which made them fearful of “everything”.
Similar to other phobias, Pantophobia encompasses extreme worry that bleeds into and impacts everyday life making quality of life suffer. As stated earlier, individuals with this phobia are more commonly diagnosed today with GAD due to the large amount of overlap in symptoms which we will discuss further.
What are the symptoms of Pantophobia?
With any psychological disorder, symptoms can be present in a variety of ways and the combination or presentation of them can vary from person to person. Symptoms, typically, are seen to fall under three different categories (i.e., psychological, physical, and behavioral). Additionally, it should be noted that in order to be diagnosed with Pantophobia one must not have any previous psychological diagnosis as the cause could then be rooted in something this disorder rather than having a true fear of everything.
Symptoms related to the mind or psychology are seen to vary such as symptoms related to emotions to certain cognitions. First, fear or extreme distress is an emotional type of symptom seen with individuals who fear everything. Whatever the stimuli, a fear or panicked response could be present resulting in follow symptoms or behaviors. Additionally, individuals may feel incredibly overwhelmed typically lead into these fear or anxious responses. Lastly, negative or illogical cognitions can also be present such as a certain object being something one should fear because it is associated with danger/harm/death.
As when we experience any sort of fear or panic, physical reactions are pretty much a sure thing to follow. That being said, it is equally common for individuals to experience physical symptoms without the psychological and perhaps even mistake these physical reactions as a medical illness rather than a psychological disorder such as having Pantophobia. Now, some physical symptoms that individuals can experience include nausea, sweating, shaking, racing heart, difficulty breathing, or muscle tension.
Lastly, individuals can also demonstrate certain behaviors as a result to having Pantophobia. Typically, or most commonly, the behaviors seen with those who have Pantophobia include avoidant behaviors.
These behaviors are usually ways in the which the individual avoids the negative stimuli such as leaving a room, avoiding a place with the negative stimuli or even just staying home to avoid any and every possibility to be exposed to any and all negative stimuli. As you can imagine, for individuals with this phobia it is incredibly likely that avoidant behavior may just include staying home with very few places being on their “safe-to-attend” list because of their fear of everything.
What are the causes of Pantophobia?
Now, you may be wondering how does one even become scared of everything? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer since there is no single cause? A second question you may be asking is, are certain people more likely to have a phobia like this, and are there any causes? The answer to that is yes! There are certain people that are more likely to have or develop Pantophobia due to a few reasons.
In sum, there are three main causes psychologist argue to be the most likely reasons for developing or having this phobia which include: genetics or family history and one’s environment.
To start, familial history or one’s genetics can be one reason or cause for the development of Pantophobia. Similar to many psychological as well as health disorders genetics is a great start for explaining why someone may or may not having something. We are fairly familiar with certain illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s which are unfortunately common hereditary diseases. Phobias, like Pantophobia, are similar in that family history can also increase the likelihood although a parent or grandparent will not pass down a phobia rather genes related to anxiety. While there is no single gene causing one to develop Pantophobia, an individual can have the genes which are related to anxiety that can increase the likelihood of having this phobia.
Previously, we discussed how familial history and our genetics can have an influence on the likelihood of having a phobia, but our physical environment can just as likely do the same. The environments we are in such as our home’s, schools, or communities can also influence and increase the likelihood of having Pantophobia similar to how we pick up on routines or slang because of the places we frequent.
While our families are incredibly influential, the schools we go to or went to as children can also influence our perceptions or cognitions as well as our behaviors. For example, when we are in school or when we were in school, we may have worn a certain style or liked certain things because those around us looked a certain way or liked certain things. Similarly, being around those who are generally anxious or perhaps even paranoid about things can consciously or unconsciously influence one’s own beliefs and behaviors.
I would argue that there is no single person or group of people that could cause someone to develop the fear of everything, but perhaps the fear of a one thing or a few things could get the ball rolling and lead to the fear of everything.
How to cope and treat Pantophobia?
Finally, is there a way to cope and overcome/treat Pantophobia for those who are suffering with this? The simple answer is yes, but it can take much work due to the excessive number of negative stimuli. As you can imagine, other phobias generally have a single object or situation which creates immense fear but for Pantophobia there are a lot of objects/situations that can cause them distress thus treatment may vary, require a combination of methods and repetitive treatment for all of the different negative stimuli.
Here we will discuss a few possible methods:
As with individuals diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorders, individuals with Pantophobia or other phobias may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications to alleviate some of the experienced panic or stress created by their debilitating fears. Additionally, anti-depressants can also be prescribed due to the common occurrence of developing depression due to this isolating diagnosis. These prescription medications can be seen to have an impact on general well-being and quality of life, and should be considered as a form of treatment in combination with other methods.
Another form of treatment or method(s) that can be used to overcome or cope with Pantophobia include stress-reduction activities such as yoga or meditation. As we have discussed phobias are fears which create immense stress and feelings of anxiety thus incorporating these practices can do several things. If you are familiar with yoga or meditation, you will know that both include relaxation practices and techniques meant to quite the mind. Additionally, stress-reducing activities can also include self-regulating or self-calming practices which are just as practical for individuals with Pantophobia.