Technically speaking, a phobia is an excessive, unconscious, and persistent fear that constantly creates anxiety in the mind of an individual. It is an extreme form of fear which is nothing more than a normal response to a danger or threat.
Coined quite recently over an online platform, the term trypophobia refers to the inherent phobia or fear of closely stacked holes or bumps. This describes a natural aversion of an individual to the sight of tight clusters of bumps or holes, be it on a living organism or an inanimate object.
The word trypophobia is made of the Greek word roots “trypa” which means “drilling” or “holes” and “Phobos” which means “fear”.
Though this is not technically qualified as a real phobia or a mental condition by the psychiatric community, trypophobia is studied by many as an extension of man’s inherent fear of harmful agents such as reptiles and other venomous creatures.
Roughly speaking, the phobia or at least the aversion towards things with holes or bumps or similar patterns exist in 16% of the general population.
What makes an individual trypophobic?
Many scientists extend this in-built phobia to the blue-ringed octopus, one of nature’s most venomous creatures. This creature has a similar kind of patterned skin that resembles most of the holes/bumps that create panic among trypophobics. Not only the octopus, but also a host of other potentially dangerous organisms such as the king cobra snake, deathstalker scorpion, and certain spiders with toxic bites also had a similar appearance.
If this causality is to be considered true in case of trypophobia, it can be believed that trypophobia has evolutionary roots.
Strictly speaking, a trypophobic is not necessarily scared of the holes per se but is rather scared of what the holes stand for. Evolution has equipped us with an inherent understanding of what could be toxic or lethal to us.
In the mind of the trypophobic, the existence of these perforations or bumps is indicative of danger; mostly the danger associated with poisonous creatures.
According to experts, many people who have trypophobia might not be aware of the condition. The symptoms of fear and anxiety begin to manifest when the concerned individual sees images or real-life objects with dots, clusters, or perforated patterns.
A list of such elements that can cause the onset of extreme fear, aversion, and even panic attacks in a person with trypophobia includes harmless things such as:
- Lotus seed heads
- Fruits such as strawberries or pomegranates
- Soap bubbles
- Cluster of eyes in insects
Another theory that could possibly explain the existence of trypophobia is that these clusters of holes remind us of either ectoparasites (parasitic organisms, mostly insects that reside outside the body, i.e, on the skin) or microbes that are transmitted through the skin (infected respiratory droplets).
Thus, based on these scientific findings it can be safe to assume that trypophobia stems from the primal survival instinct that intends to keep us alert around disease-causing pathogens or parasites or poisonous creatures.
What the visible signs and symptoms of trypophobia?
The symptoms of trypophobia can be easily categorized as autonomic nervous system response. These kinds of responses are mostly involuntary and regulate bodily functions such as heartbeat and breathing.
Whenever a trypophobic individual is exposed to such imagery, he/she develops the following symptoms:
- Feeling of both disgust and fear – the most dominant of all trypophobic symptoms
- Feeling of something imaginary crawling on the skin
- Shuddering and body shaking
Many studies indicate a link between trypophobia and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and even Major Depressive Disorder. Individuals who showed typical symptoms of trypophobia such as a heightened sense of disgust, fear, and panic also ranked high in general psychological distress and impairment.
These individuals were also more likely to meet the DSM-5 criteria of other specific phobias. They were also more likely to either develop or have a social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is a common condition wherein an individual has an inherent fear of being gazed at or maintaining eye contact with others.
Since there are major similarities between the symptoms and triggers of trypophobia and social anxiety disorder, these two conditions can be classified as comorbid conditions.
There are no specific or fixed diagnostic tests intended for identifying trypophobia. The correct identification is done a round of clinical interview following diagnostic guidelines.
The psychiatrist will usually ask the individual’s social, medical, and psychiatric history. Based on the individual’s response to several typical trypophobia-related imageries and the magnitude of those responses will the psychiatrist be able to diagnose this condition.
Just like there are no specific diagnostic tools designed to identify this condition, there are no set treatment methods. However, the following treatment measures can help an individual take control over the fear-induced responses:
- CBT or Cognitive Behaviour Theory can help patients get a grasp of the real reason behind their trypophobic tendencies. This involves several sessions of counseling with a therapist where he/she talks to the patient and tries to understand the root cause of the fear.
- Desensitization is another method in which this phobia is dealt with. In this procedure, the individual is exposed to the trigger (in small amounts) consistently to remove the phobia altogether.
- Certain relaxation techniques and visual cues can also help some patients. Additionally, joining a support group or a self-help group can be equally therapeutic.
- Since many of the symptoms associated with trypophobia are common to anxiety, certain dietary and lifestyle modifications can also help control the elevated fear. These mainly include regular stress-busting sessions, reduced caffeine-intake (and other stimulants), and practicing proper sleep hygiene.
- In the same lines, certain medications which are used to control anxiety and panic attacks such as tranquilizers, beta-blockers, and anti-depressants may also be prescribed.
- Healthy coping mechanisms go a long way in ensuring that the individual with trypophobia can function normally without any serious psychological impairment.
Since this is a condition which is neither has a direct cause nor associated with any evident risk factor, there are no ways to prevent the onset of trypophobia. The most an individual can do is get other anxiety-related conditions diagnosed and treated early on.
- Commonplace harmless objects such as strawberries and lotus seed pods can trigger trypophobia in many.
- This is not a medically recognized phobia; however, this condition has been widely studied and discussed since 2009.
- Trypophobia, or in any other phobia in general is more prevalent among women than among men.
- Trypophobia is believed to be co-existent with social anxiety disorder. Nearly 17% of people experiencing social anxiety disorder tend to develop depressive tendencies.
- 77% of people suffering from phobias don’t seek any treatment for the anxiety symptoms.
Dos and Don'ts
- Seek immediate psychiatric help if the symptoms of trypophobia are limiting your abilities to attend to day-to-day tasks.
- Look for support groups and people with similar tendencies in order to address the issue in a healthy and informed manner.
- Be wary of photoshopped images circulating the internet that could send you in a state of panic.
- Expose yourself to trypophobia-triggering images more than what you can take.
- Feel shy or embarrassed, talking about your issues with your closed ones or your doctor.
- Put off seeking medical help assuming it’s a small issue which will go away with time. Trypophobia can be linked to other anxiety-related disorders and thus needs to be addressed at the earliest.
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