What Is Fear of People?

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Anthropophobia is an irrational fear of people (or society). This condition causes a person severe anxiety when in the presence of another person, regardless of the situation. This phobia can significantly impact your everyday activities, such as grocery shopping or going to work.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of anthropophobia.

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What Is the Fear of People?

Having an irrational fear of people is different than feeling uncomfortable in social situations. Anthropophobia can cause anxiety whether you are around a group of people or just one person. This condition also causes you to be very concerned about offending others and not feeling worthy.

Anthropophobia is not an official mental health disorder included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, the condition causes severe anxiety symptoms similar to other anxiety disorders.

Symptoms and Characteristics

Anthropophobia may cause physical symptoms that are consistent with other types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Excessive fear and worry
  • Cautious, avoidant behavior
  • Panic attacks
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty sleeping

People with anthropophobia often have the following characteristics:

  • Feeling unworthy or inadequate
  • Worrying about offending other people
  • Fear of being judged or watched
  • Difficulty talking to people
  • Trouble looking people in the eye
  • Exaggerated fear or delusion with how their body odor might offend another
  • Altered view of their appearance
  • Negative self-talk

Causes

There's no exact cause for anthropophobia. However, irrational fear of people can develop after a trauma—whether you experienced the trauma yourself or heard about someone else's traumatic experience.

Genetics can play a role in anthropophobia. If a person in your family also has a mental health disorder—particularly if they have an anxiety disorder or specific phobia, a persistent, irrational fear of a specific situation, object, activity, or person—you are at a higher risk of developing this condition.

A person's cultural background can also contribute to phobias. Cultures often have different social norms or "unwritten rules" that dictate how a person should behave or act around other people. Trying to live up to these standards can make a person more likely to develop a fear of people.

Phobias can also be a result of an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (the body’s chemical messengers), such as dopamine and serotonin.

Diagnosing Anthropophobia

While anthropophobia is not listed in the DSM-5, it is similar to a diagnosis of specific phobia.

Criteria for diagnosing specific phobia include:

  • Fear that is out of proportion to the actual threat of being around people
  • Fear that has lasted at least six months
  • Immediate anxiety reaction to exposure to people, or anticipating being around people
  • Going out of your way to avoid being around people, or enduring it with extreme distress
  • Fear that interferes with your normal daily routine

Treatment

Phobias such as anthropophobia can be effectively treated with psychotherapy, relaxation and mindfulness practices, and in some cases, medications.

Psychotherapy

Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is a common treatment for anthropophobia. One method used in psychotherapy for treating phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Phobias are based on irrational thoughts and negative self-talk. CBT challenges those thoughts and teaches you how to counteract them with positive thought patterns that are based in reality.

One specific technique that can be used in therapy for phobias is exposure therapy. If you have anthropophobia, this intervention involves gradual exposure to your fear of people while working through your anxiety symptoms. You might begin by talking about being around people or looking at pictures of other people. As you improve, the level of exposure increases until you are able to be around people without feeling distressed.

Relaxation and Mindfulness

Symptoms of anxiety caused by anthropophobia can be reduced with relaxation techniques and mindfulness training. The following techniques are often incorporated into cognitive behavioral therapy as well:

  • Deep breathing: Focusing on your breath while you're experiencing anxiety can help you calm down. Deep breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) can be performed virtually anywhere.

Deep Breathing Step-by-Step

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  3. Breathe in slowly, filling your belly with air.
  4. Blow out slowly, with your lips pursed, as if you are blowing out candles.
  5. Repeat for several breaths.
  • Visualization: Picturing yourself in the presence of people can help reduce anxiety symptoms and help you progress to overcoming your fears.
  • Guided imagery: This technique involves imagining yourself in a calming place, such as on a beach. This imagery is guided by verbal prompts—either led by a therapist or listening to a recording.
  • Mindfulness: Phobias are based on irrational thoughts. Mindfulness involves focusing on what is happening in the present moment, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Medications

If your anthropophobia symptoms significantly impact your daily life, your doctor might prescribe medication. However, many people may not respond to medications and a medication might make the symptoms worse. A medication would rarely be recommended as the sole treatment.

The most common medications used to treat phobias are benzodiazepines such as Ativan (lorazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Klonopin (clonazepam). Benzodiazepines are short-lasting medications that are taken at the onset of your anxiety symptoms, directly before you’re in a situation in which you will be around people.

However, benzodiazepines should be used cautiously. They frequently cause drowsiness and impaired coordination, and people who take them should not drive or perform other potentially hazardous activities for several hours after the dose. Also, benzodiazepines are associated with tolerance, dependence, and addiction. It may be difficult to stop using these drugs even if you have been taking them for just a few days. You also may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop them.

In some cases, longer-acting medications that affect the neurotransmitters in your brain, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), might be needed. These can include Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram), Celexa (citalopram), and Zoloft (sertraline).

Summary

Anthropophobia is an irrational, overwhelming fear of people. It is different than feeling uncomfortable in social situations. This condition causes anxiety symptoms, such as increased heart rate, sweating, chest pain, and dizziness. Treatment usually includes psychotherapy, relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and possibly medications such as benzodiazepines and SSRIs.

A Word From Verywell

Having an irrational fear of people can make it difficult to function in today's society. Working with a mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist can help you effectively move toward recovery. There are support groups available. If an in-person support group is too overwhelming or uncomfortable, consider a virtual support group or a one-on-one session to learn how other people live with your condition.

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9 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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  6. PsychCentral. What is exposure therapy?

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  9. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Medication options.