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Winter Phobias

Understanding Seasonal Fears

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Updated December 31, 2012

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

Winter means different things to different people. Many revel in the cold air, winter sports, and the holiday season. Some feel a sense of renewal as they huddle inside during the long, dark nights. For a surprisingly large number of us, however, winter is a season filled with dread, sadness and a fervent wish for spring to arrive. Winter-related phobias run the gamut from the fear of snow to the fear of being trapped.

Fear of Cold

The fear of cold, or cryophobia, is often worst during the winter months. Some people are afraid of cold air temperatures, while others fear touching cold objects. Cryophobia may stem from many different root causes, but is most often linked to a subjective perception of "cold" and negative associations with the sensation of cold. However, each person experiences temperatures differently, so the threshold for "cold" is different for everyone.

Fear of Snow

The fear of snow, or chionophobia, is often linked to other phobias. Those with fears of cold, severe weather, or water may be afraid of snowstorms even when they are at home. People with fears of driving, being trapped, or becoming contaminated are typically afraid only when they must go out in the snow. This fear ranges from mild to severe, and may be extremely life-limiting for those who live in colder climates.

Fear of Air

The relatively complicated anemophobia, or fear of air, may occur during all seasons. However, many people find that it is worst during winter, when the blowing wind is cold and miserable. Some people are afraid of gusty winds, other of drafty rooms. The fear may have many different causes, from the fear of losing control to the fear of illness.

Fear of Winter Driving

Winter driving causes nervousness and trepidation in many people, but for some, prudent caution escalates into full-blown terror. This fear is generally worst in those who have a more generalized driving phobia or another winter-related fear, but it may also manifest on its own. Those who are unfamiliar with winter driving conditions, such as people who suddenly move from a warm climate to a cold climate, may be at particular risk for developing this phobia.

Fear of Being Trapped

Although it is often confused with claustrophobia, the fear of being trapped is properly known as cleithrophobia. While people with claustrophobia are afraid of small spaces, those with cleithrophobia are specifically afraid of being locked or stuck in a small space. The phobia may be triggered year-round, but is often worst during the winter due to the small but real risk of becoming stuck in a snow bank or falling through thin ice.

Cabin Fever

Cabin fever is a collection of symptoms that may occur when people are stuck in one place for a long period of time. Famously portrayed in the 1977 Stephen King novel and 1980 film, The Shining, cabin fever is generally rooted in an intense fear of isolation. Violence, such as that shown in The Shining, is relatively rare and usually due to a pre-existing condition, but irritability, restlessness, depression and lack of motivation are common.

Auroraphobia

The fear of the Northern Lights, or auroraphobia, is an unusual but very real phobia. The fear is generally based in a larger phobia of astronomical phenomena. Astronomy and astrology have been heavily linked throughout history, and some astronomical fears are based on religious or doomsday phobias. In other cases, these fears are rooted in a generalized fear of the unknown.

Managing Winter Phobias

Like all phobias, winter phobias vary dramatically in their severity and the impact that they have on individual sufferers' lives. For some people, education and exposure to the object of fear are sufficient to calm their concerns. More severe phobias, however, generally require professional guidance. Winter is a fact of life, but with hard work and assistance, it need not be a season to dread.

Source:

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

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