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Cryophobia

Understanding the Fear of Cold

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Updated January 07, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Cryophobia, or the fear of cold, is a relatively complex phobia. Some people are afraid only of cold weather, others of touching cold objects. In addition, the definition of cold varies widely among individuals. Some people with cryophobia fear only items or temperatures that are below freezing, while others are afraid of anything that they perceive as "cold" to the touch.

Cryophobia and Winter Weather

Cryophobia is often worse during the winter months, even for those who specifically fear cold objects. Snow and ice may seem unbearable, while objects that always feel cold, such as metal items, feel even colder during the winter.

However, the sensation of "cold" is different for everyone. It may be difficult for a person who feels cold when the temperature dips below 70 F to understand cryophobia in someone who feels comfortable at 55 F. Yet that person's fear is no less real.

Cryophobia may also be at the heart of the fear of winter activities. Even if you are generally comfortable in colder weather, you might dread spending the day skiing or sledding. You might also worry about something going wrong, possibly finding yourself in a situation where you are feeling cold but are very far away from warm shelter.

Causes of Cryophobia

Cryophobia is more likely to occur in those who have had a significant negative impact from the cold. For example, if you have experienced hypothermia, fallen through the ice, or been stuck in a snow drift, you may be more likely to develop this fear. The negative experience need not have happened to you directly. If someone you know has been impacted by the cold, you may also be likely to develop cryophobia. Even watching news reports of a particularly bad accident can trigger the fear in some people.

Those who suddenly move or travel from a relatively warm climate to one that is much colder may also be at increased risk. For example, I traveled to Alaska in May 2009. Having grown up in Florida, I felt constantly cold even in the relatively mild 45-55 F temperatures. Although I knew that the weather was not particularly cold and that I was dressed for it, I spent the first week worrying about the fact that I felt cold. Although I was able to adapt and enjoy my trip, I could easily have developed a full-blown phobia.

However, cryophobia can also occur without any previous negative experiences at all. Some people simply perceive cold more sensitively than others, and some interpret it as not only uncomfortable but frightening. A general negative perception could, over time, escalate into a full-blown phobia.

Managing Cryophobia

Many people find that they can manage milder cases of cryophobia with self-help techniques. Dressing warmly, avoiding unnecessary time outdoors, and keeping the house toasty warm can go a long way toward alleviating mild fears. More severe cases, however, can be life-limiting. Some people are unable to travel to school or work, avoid social occasions, and become isolated during the winter. Over time, a severe fear of cold can even lead to additional phobias including agoraphobia.

If your fear is severe, consider seeking professional assistance. Like all phobias, cryophobia responds well to a variety of treatment methods. You may never learn to love ski vacations, but with help and hard work, there is no reason for cryophobia to take over your life.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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