For the past few weeks we have talked about how the upcoming cold weather can affect anxiety. For example, Seasonal Affective Disorder is more prevalent during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight (although some people do experience SAD during the sumer months.) Last week we discussed finding ways to exercise during the cold winter months. But what if it is the cold you are actually fearful of.
A fear of intense cold is called cheimatophobia, cheimaphobia or psychorophobia. A fear of cold, ice or frost is known as cryophobia or sychrophobia. This type of fear is a phobia. Phobias are not just an intense fear, they are an irrational and unsubstantiated fear. According to Mental-Health-Matters, ten percent of all people have some type of phobia. We mostly associate phobias with children, such as a fear of the dark, but phobias can be present at any age. Mental-Health-Matters indicates that only 20 percent of phobias in adults will disappear without treatment.
Symptoms for phobias are similar to symptoms for any type of anxiety. If you are afraid of the cold, you could experience any or all of the following symptoms when thinking about the upcoming winter or faced with going outside in the frigid weather: :
- Muscle tension
- Rapid heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble concentrating
Cold weather is dangerous, if outside for too long, you can develop frostbite or hypothermia. Even when not health threatening, cold weather can be uncomfortable. Sicknesses, such as cold and flu are more common in the cold weather (not because cold weather causes fold or flu but because people are indoors more often and more easily spread germs.) Some people complain that arthritis or muscle aches increase during the winter months. But fear of the cold goes way beyond feeling uncomfortable or wanting to stay cuddled up under a blanket instead of venturing out into bad weather.
Cheimatophobia, as with all intense anxieties, can interfere with your life. You may adjust your schedule so you don't need to venture outside or you may move to a different part of the country, choosing to live in California, Florida, Arizona or other warm states to avoid the cold. You may ignore responsibilities because you can't make yourself go outside when the temperature dips below freezing.
If your fear of the cold is impacting how you live your life, cognitive behavioral therapy is frequently helpful. This type of treatment uses exposure therapy to desensitize a person to whatever is causing them fear.In addition, stress-reducing strategies can be taught and incorporated into the situation. Ideas such as deep breathing and relaxation techniques are helpful.
Specific strategies for coping with a fear of the cold can also include:
Watching the weather channel or your local news and being prepared for whatever weather is being called for. Predicting the weather is not an exact science and we all know that weather forecasters are sometimes wrong, however, the weather forecast can give you a general idea of what to expect. If the weather forecaster is calling for temperatures around 10 degrees, you can be sure it is going to be cold.
You might want to keep emergency kits, with warm clothes and extra blankets in your trunk during the winter months. This can give you a sense of security and help you relax.
Learn about how to stay safe during the winter. For example, in last week's post on exercise during the winter I provided some safety tips for dressing appropriately for the weather.
If you know someone who has a phobia about the cold weather, reassure him or her you will check on them often and will be available to help. This is especially important for elderly relatives and friends who rely on others for food or other necessities. Knowing there will be someone to take care of them can lessen their feelings of anxiety.
Phobias: What are Phobias, 2007, iSyke, Mental Health Matters
Jet Stream Glossary- Online School for Weather, National Weather Service