What Is Fear of Ghosts (Phasmophobia)?

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Phasmophobia is a persistent and intense fear of ghosts. People with phasmophobia might know that their anxiety isn’t founded. Still, they can’t control their fear, which can cause significant distress.

Many people get a few goosebumps while listening to a ghost story or watching a horror movie. But people with phasmophobia fear the supernatural, which can seriously limit their lives through avoidance behaviors. For example, someone with phasmophobia might avoid social gatherings, feel afraid of being alone in their home, or avoid exposure to TV shows or movies due to their fear.

Read on to learn more about phasmophobia, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

A man in a scarf and jacket looks at a gravestone in an empty graveyard.

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Definition

Phasmophobia is an intense, persistent fear of ghosts. According to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5), phasmophobia is classified as a specific phobia. These phobias fall under the broader category of anxiety disorders.

A specific phobia is an intense fear or anxiety triggered immediately by a specific object or situation. Specific phobias are also life-limiting, ongoing, and distressing.

For example, someone with phasmophobia might be afraid of the supernatural and ghosts to the point that they're frightened by the mere mention of a ghost story, haunted house, or scary movie. They may feel that someone is “watching” them or that their home is haunted. They may also experience related phobias, such as thanatophobia (the fear of death), nyctophobia (the fear of night or darkness), or sciophobia (the fear of shadows).

How Common Is Phasmophobia?

Specific phobias are fairly common anxiety disorders. In fact, around 12.5% of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia in their lifetime. They're more common in women than in men.

Symptoms

Someone with phasmophobia will experience intense anxiety and fear when exposed to images or ideas related to ghosts or the supernatural. This might lead to symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cautious, avoidant behavior
  • Difficulty with sleep and associated problems, such as lowered productivity and concentration

Research indicates that people with phasmophobia are particularly affected by insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and a chronic lack of sleep.

They may find it difficult or impossible to sleep alone due to their fear of ghosts.

Diagnosis

Phasmophobia isn't a diagnosis in the DSM-5. Instead, your healthcare provider can diagnose you using the criteria for a specific phobia. They may ask you questions about how often you experience an intense fear of ghosts and how that fear affects your daily life.

To qualify as a phobia (rather than a temporary or situational fear), someone’s fear of ghosts must meet the following criteria, according to the DSM-5:

  • The fear leads to avoidance behaviors or other forms of distress and dysfunction, whether at work or in social situations.
  • The fear is out of proportion to the actual danger, and exposure to images or ideas related to ghosts or the supernatural almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety.
  • The fear of ghosts lasts for six months or more.
  • The anxiety isn’t better explained by other health conditions, whether mental or physical.

Other Conditions

Before a formal diagnosis, your healthcare provider will likely want to rule out other possible health conditions that could be mistaken for phasmophobia. These could include conditions such as dementia, some forms of epilepsy, psychosis, nocturnal panic attacks, and other phobias.

Causes

Phasmophobia and other specific phobias are often caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Here are some of the potential causes of an intense fear of ghosts:

  • Genetics: There is some evidence that genetics can play a role in the development of intense fears like phasmophobia. While the data on the heritability of phobias is still scarce, some twin studies suggest a moderate link between genetics and the development of certain fears.
  • Learned experiences: A fear of ghosts could also be learned. For example, a negative experience with a haunted house or horror movie as a child could lead to persistent, intense anxiety about the idea of ghosts. A child who sees that their parent is afraid of ghosts could also “learn” from their caregiver’s fear.
  • Traumatic experiences: A traumatic experience, such as the death of a loved one, could contribute to the eventual development of phasmophobia in some cases.
  • Cultural influences: A belief in the supernatural alone doesn't mean that someone has phasmophobia. However, certain religious or cultural beliefs about ghosts may predispose someone with underlying anxiety to develop a phobia.

Treatment

Some people with specific phobias, such as a fear of ghosts, feel embarrassed about their condition and avoid treatment. But there's effective treatment available for phasmophobia and its related avoidance behaviors.

These are the three main approaches to treatment for phasmophobia and other specific phobias:

  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is often the preferred treatment for phasmophobia and other phobias. In exposure therapy, a mental healthcare provider slowly introduces you to the objects or situations that tend to trigger your anxiety. Then, through a process called “habituation,” you'll confront the source of your fear while practicing guided relaxation techniques.
  • Medication: Medication isn’t usually the first treatment choice for specific phobias like phasmophobia. Still, some prescribed drugs, such as beta-blockers or anti-anxiety medications, may help reduce the intense fear on a short-term basis.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of talk therapy that can be helpful for people with specific phobias. In CBT, a mental health professional might help a person with phasmophobia change their thought patterns about ghosts and the supernatural.

Coping

Outside of formal treatment, there are a few techniques you can do on your own to help manage the symptoms of the specific phobia or other anxiety disorder. They include:

  • Meditation: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, can help you to quiet your mind and regulate your thoughts. Try a guided meditation app before you go to sleep or daily meditation practice of just five minutes at a time to start.
  • Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, can help you calm down when you start to panic. You can also try your hand at calming hobbies, such as adult coloring books to focus your attention in a healthier way.
  • Yoga: Yoga can help with feelings of anxiety by having you focus on your breath and be present in your body. Heading to a local class or hitting the mat at home for a YouTube yoga session can help you clear your mind and heal your body.
  • Support groups: Finding peer support and advice from other people dealing with phasmophobia or other intense fears can help you learn to manage your anxiety more effectively. You can join a local support group if there's one in your area or connect online.

Summary

Phasmophobia is an intense, persistent fear of ghosts. It's a specific phobia under the larger umbrella of anxiety disorders, according to the DSM-5.

Caused by genetics, learned behavior, and/or traumatic experiences, this phobia can lead to symptoms such as panic attacks, shortness of breath, and difficulty sleeping.

Phasmophobia and other specific phobias can be treated effectively, usually with exposure therapy or CBT.

A Word From Verywell

Many people don’t seek help for their specific phobia, such as a fear of ghosts, out of a sense of shame. Others simply aren’t aware that treatment is available. But you don’t have to manage the condition on your own. Get in touch with your healthcare provider to discuss your treatment options if you suspect you might have phasmophobia.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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