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Fear of Holes: Scientific Explanation of Why You Have Trypophobia (and How to Cope With It!)

Fear of Holes: Scientific Explanation of Why You Have Trypophobia (and How to Cope With It!)

If you have trypophobia you will certainly know all about the irrational and intense fear of clusters of holes which make you feel extremely uncomfortable. You may feel nauseous, have panic attacks, hot sweats, or have very itchy skin when you see these clusters of holes. Aerated chocolate, a cheese grater, a honeycomb, or even soap bubbles are likely to set you off. This post will attempt to explain the scientific background and also offer some ways to help you cope with it. If you have never heard of this phobia, read on.

“(I) can’t really face small, irregularly or asymmetrically placed holes, they make me like, throw up in my mouth, cry a little bit, and shake all over, deeply.” —Trypophobia sufferer.

Is trypophobia a real condition?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of all mental disorders, does not list trypophobia at all. All the other common phobias such as fear of spiders, heights, crowds are all there but not a fear of holes. Wikipedia refused to run a page on it until quite recently.

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It seems that an Irish blogger called Louise invented the term ten years ago by combining the word for “boring holes” and “fear.” Thus, trypophobia was born. In spite of this rather doubtful start, trypophobia has been the subject of a few research studies. If we look at some of these, we may come up with a possible explanation of what can be a very disturbing condition and some ways to cope with it. Look at this video to see if you are actually suffering from this disturbance. If you know you are trypophobic, don’t watch the video!

Scientific Research to Convince You

Before you dismiss any of the above as a fad, let me explain how researchers have shown that this is a real phobia although it is not recognized as such yet. We will be going into more depth than just acknowledging that a Facebook group for trypophobia has 12,000 members.

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Geoff Cole and Arnold Wilkins of the University of Essex (UK) have carried out an interesting study. As a result of their research, they are convinced that up to 17% of the population may suffer from trypophobia. They explain the phenomenon as a mental process whereby one part of the brain sees a seed pod but another part of the brain sees a poisonous animal. Fear and loathing are the reaction when the latter reaction predominates. It is an evolutionary survival response which we still possess. This is telling us that certain patterns could represent a dangerous animal and we need to escape!

“We argue that although sufferers are not conscious of the association, the phobia arises in part because the inducing stimuli share basic visual characteristics with dangerous organisms, characteristics that are low level and easily computed, and therefore facilitate a rapid nonconscious response.” —Cole and Wilkins, University of Essex.

Martin Antony a psychologist at Ryerson University, Toronto has done a lot of research on phobias and anxiety in general. He is convinced that trypophobia is easily explained by the fact that any visual image which is pockmarked is associated with disease and decay.

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We must not forget the power of suggestion. Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California is convinced that this is the more likely explanation. The role of social media should not be underestimated, she says.

A lot more research still needs to be done and the University of Essex team are moving ahead with trying to analyze and manipulate the characteristics of everyday objects which may lead to a deeper understanding of how ingrained trypophobic tendencies may be.

How to Cope With Trypophobia

The best way is to try to reduce the effects these objects and images have on you. A useful strategy is to examine the triggers and try to reduce exposure to these. If you happen to be in company when you are affected by trypophobia, try to explain it to the person with you. This will help you to come to terms with the phobia and its negative impact will be reduced.

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Some people will have a severe physical reaction which can be similar to a panic attack. You cannot control this at all but you can begin to control how you deal with it. Owning the experience without terrorizing yourself is a good first step.

Choose your images wisely! If you know that something is likely to have holes or pockmarks, you can choose not to go there. Why risk another negative and uncomfortable reaction?  Limit your exposure at all times.

Featured photo credit: items we carry/James Lee via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. Give for the Joy of Giving

When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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