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Doomsday Phobias

Fear of the End of the World

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Updated July 01, 2014

Doomsday phobia is a broad category that can encompass any fear of the end of the world. Some people fear plague, others nuclear holocaust, while still other people are afraid of Armageddon. Doomsday phobias are surprisingly common, occurring in some form in virtually every corner of the world. These phobias can be loosely categorized in several types. Two of the most common are technology phobias and religious phobias.

Technology Phobias

Who could forget the global panic over what was termed the Millennium Bug or Y2K? People of all walks of life, including some highly respected scientists and engineers, became convinced that the world’s computer systems would be permanently halted or destroyed on January 1, 2000.

The science behind the dilemma seemed sound. The theory was that early computers were programmed to accept only two digit, rather than four digit, dates. Meanwhile, 00 is not a recognized entry in binary computer language, leading to system failure in many cases. According to this theory, then, when the year rolled over from 99 to 00, the computers would crash.

Of course, the Millennium Bug proved nothing more than hype. Most high-powered computer systems already accepted four-digit dates. Those that did not were mostly reprogrammed well in advance, and even among home computers, very little actually happened to affect the data stream.

So what was the Y2K scare really? Was it a collective outpouring of a primitive doomsday phobia, or a simple case of mass hysteria?

The latest example of widespread technology phobia surrounds the atom-smasher, which was turned on in September 2008. Prior to its successful launch, many predicted that the device would create black holes and strangelets, simultaneously choking and collapsing the entire planet.

Perhaps doomsday phobias are related to the fear of the unknown. Most of us do not fully understand today’s technology, from the inner workings of our personal computers to the consequences of forcing proton beams to collide. Fueled by science fiction films, it is easy for our imaginations to go into overdrive. We consider worst case scenarios, and what could be worse than the utter destruction of not only ourselves, but life as we know it?

Religious Phobias

Religion is a highly personalized system of beliefs, largely based on faith. Holy books such as the Bible contain a great deal of mystical writing and parables, the meanings of which have been debated by scholars throughout the ages.

In the modern world, most people have chosen to balance religion with science, seeking interpretations of sections such as Revelations that make sense against a larger frame of reference. However, many people believe that these sections are meant to be taken literally. If this is the case, then the End Times will be extremely scary. It is easy to see how a belief in the literal interpretation of religious writings could develop into a phobia.

Doomsday phobias with a religious bent could be related to death phobias, particularly in those who are questioning their faith. Someone who is from a religious background but has begun to question its teachings could easily develop a phobia of finding out the truth through death.

Doomsday Phobias in Popular Culture

Since doomsday phobias are relatively common, they are often exploited in popular culture. The best-known example is the 1938 radio broadcast War of the Worlds. This live broadcast claimed to follow an alien invasion that was occurring in New York City. The broadcast was heard across the United States, and a mass panic ensued. Nearly 60 years later, the made for television movie Without Warning, with a similar premise, caused another minor breakout of fear and panic.

Doomsday fears continue to be exploited today. The 2008 Universal Pictures film Doomsday focuses on the aftermath of a deadly virus outbreak, preying on our collective fear of unstoppable illness transmission. At Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2008, a haunted house based on the film will give guests the chance to confront this fear up close.

Doomsday Phobia or Mass Hysteria?

It can be difficult to differentiate a legitimate doomsday phobia from the effects of mass hysteria. “Groupthink” is a documented phenomenon that occurs when members of a group begin to conform to the majority opinion without critically evaluating information for themselves. In a panic situation, this can lead to an evolving hysteria.

However, mass hysteria generally subsides when the feared situation passes. In the above pop culture examples, the panic eased when information was disseminated explaining that the threat was not real.

If you have a legitimate doomsday phobia, it will not be limited to a specific event or situation. Instead your fear will persist. You will become afraid whenever any situation arises that involves your particular phobia. You may find yourself dwelling on the topic of doomsday and going out of your way to seek comfort or protection.

Treating Doomsday Phobia

If you have a doomsday phobia, it is important to seek professional help. The phobia is treatable, but can worsen over time. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a popular treatment for doomsday phobias. The goal of this type of therapy is to help you replace your fearful self-talk with more positive messages.

If your phobia is severe, you may also be prescribed medications. A variety of medications are used to treat phobias, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. Your mental health professional will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

Source:

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

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