Trypophobia (Fear Of Holes)

What is trypophobia?

Trypophobia is the fear of holes that are closely packed together. People who suffer from this phobia get jittery quite uneasy when they look at surfaces that have small holes packed close together. An example is where the surface of honeycomb triggers feelings of discomfort. Studies on this phobia is limited and opinions are spilt on whether it should be classified as a phobia or not.

Symptoms of trypophobia

When a person suffering from trypophobia sees a trigger they will first become pale then begin sweating. They then begin having an allergic reaction which manifests as redness of the skin, itching and goosebumps. Soon the person begins suffering from the symptoms of an anxiety attack which include: chest pain, chills or having elevated temperatures, feeling of impending doom, choking feelings and heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, nervousness, headaches, dizziness, trembling and sweating.

Theories on trypophobia

There are various theories that try to explain the cause of trypophobia. All the theories agree on the fact that the person suffering from trypophobia associates the triggers to disease, danger or wounds as an innate response or due to conditioning and priming. One of the theories states that this fear is due to evolution which occurs when people are exposed to objects that have holes poked in them so many times such that the brain associates such clustered small holes to something dangerous.

Another theory states that these phobias stem from deep-rooted emotional issues. These can be experiences from one’s childhood like bee stings that one suffered from, hence when they see a honeycomb they associate it with the bee sting.

The third theory notes that this fear can result from organic objects like skin rashes or blisters after suffering from measles or chicken pox.

Causes of trypophobia

People that suffer from trypophobia are triggered by images of small, clustered irregular holes such as those found in:

  • Sponges
  • Sea sponges
  • Soap bubbles
  • Honeycomb
  • Corals
  • Water condensation
  • Beehives
  • Seed pods
  • Pomegranates
  • Strawberries
  • Eye clusters such as those in insects
  • Bubbles

Apart from the triggers stated above, animals like insects, mammals or any other creatures that have spotted fur or skins can trigger trypophobia.

Diagnosis of trypophobia

In order to diagnose a phobia, the psychiatrist needs to get medical information regarding the phobia from your medical history. Even though this phobia has not yet been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association there are some tests that can be done to ascertain it. One of these tests involves exposing the client to pictures that have image triggers. If the image triggers a response in the client then it affirms the diagnosis that the client has trypophobia. There are many ways to conduct this test but there are two most common ways which are:

  • Lotus seed phobia test- The person with trypophobia is exposed to the pods of the lotus seed. If they display disgust or resistance to seeing the seeds then this is a positive indicator of trypophobia.
  • Trypophobia picture test: This test includes showing multiple images of the lotus flower seeds or images that have been edited to show holes in the skin. Other images from beehives or corals can also be used or even random images of objects that have holes clustered together.

Treatment of trypophobia

Phobias can be treated in many ways. The most effective way to treat a phobia is by exposure therapy. This focuses on modifying a person’s response to the trigger. The other effective method is cognitive behaviour therapy.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is used to not only manage but also treat phobias. The individual is exposed to objects that they fear over and over again. Due to the repeated exposure the fear of the object reduces with time.

Cognitive behaviour therapy

The therapy combines both exposure therapy and other treatment modalities to manage the anxiety caused by the triggers and to prevent one from feeling helpless. The main aim of this therapy is to alter the destructive perception that the client has of the trigger in order to alleviate the symptoms.

There are also other treatment modalities that can be used to treat trypophobia which are discussed below.

  • Relaxation techniques include the use of visualization and exercise based methods such as yoga and meditation.
  • Talk sessions – These sessions involve talking with the psychiatrist so that the person can understand their fears, so as to know where they stem from and how to handle them.
  • Medications – The client can be prescribed anti-anxiety medications which include beta-blockers or sedatives that help ease panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Physical activities – The psychiatrist teaches the person how to perform physical activities that will help them to manage an anxiety attack.
  • Mindful strategies – These are strategies that involve mindful breathing tactics that promote calm and focus.
  • Hypnosis – Hypnosis has been shown to be effective against all kinds of phobias including trypophobia. It relieves the underlying cause of the phobia and eliminates the fear response to the trigger. The goal of hypnotherapy is to find out the event that triggered the phobia which in most cases has been repressed for years.

Prevention of trypophobia

Apart from going for therapy, the person can adopt some lifestyle changes that will help reduce the occurrence of the panic attacks.

  • Lifestyle modifications – These include eating a balanced diet, getting a good amount of sleep and avoiding stimulants like caffeine that make the attacks worse.
  • Support groups – The person can join support groups of people that experience frequent panic attacks due to trypophobia so that they can walk together.
  • Reach out to family and friends so that they can help them manage the condition.
  • Seek help from a psychiatrist to manage the phobia early before it manifests as a panic attack.
  • Repeatedly exposing yourself to objects that trigger the phobia so that you can get past the fear.