We’ve all encountered people who are scared of needles, of heights, of blood and maybe of insects, but have you ever heard of the fear of large objects?
Maybe, you’d rather avoid going on planes or maybe the Titanic movie was horrifying simply because the sight of the ship was just too overwhelming for you. You might have wondered what it could possibly be and whether such a condition even existed. It does exist. It is called Megalophobia.
Megalophobia is a kind of anxiety disorder in which a person has an irrational fear of large objects.1 It could be tall buildings, airplanes, mountains or even great blue whales. The sight of these objects or large creatures triggers a terrifying response in a person who has this condition. Megalophobia originated from the 19th century and was coined from the Greek words “megalos” and “phobia”. “Megalos” means “great or big” while “phobia” means “fear of”.2 When the words are put together, it simply means “a fear of big things”.
Just like any other phobia, megalophobia affects the lives of all those who have it. It might be somewhat easier to get bug sprays or get a friend to help you with any spiders around but, imagine being scared of an airplane. Imagine not accepting job offers or being unable to go for vacations because you just cannot bring yourself to get on a plane. Megalophobia can be a very frustrating and sometimes debilitating condition but knowing what it means and how to manage could provide a better quality of life.
Since Megalophobia is a type of phobia, it would be best to understand what a phobia is. A Phobia, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is “a marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation”.3 This is when a person experiences anxiety about a situation that is proportionally greater than any possible harm they could face from that situation.
There are 2 categories of phobias: specific/simple Phobias and complex phobias. A specific phobia is an irrational fear about a specified object or creature.4 Megalophobia is a particular type of specific phobias.5 Some other examples are fear of spiders, fear of heights, fear of blood and so on.4
Not all fears are phobias. In fact, fears can be protective as it lets us know when we are in a dangerous situation. Children can have fears and that is normal, however, fears ultimately pass with time and do not usually affect daily activities.
It is unknown exactly how many people have megalophobia. We also do not have data on the number of people in the world who have specific phobias. However, from some population surveys conducted in some continents, we know that about 7.4% of people (7 in a 100 people) reported having specific phobias in their lifetime with those phobias starting as early as 8 years of age6. Women are also more likely to be affected (twice as affected as men) as well as those living in a high-income population.6
While the exact cause is unknown, experts have concluded that a mix of several factors play a role in the likelihood of a person suffering from megalophobia. These factors are genetic, environmental, and biological.7
A person born into a family in which one or more family members has megalophobia may also develop megalophobia as well. That same person has a higher tendency than the general population if exposed to scary situations involving large objects. Sometimes, the temperament may also play a role as people who tend to feel more negative emotions such as guilt, fear or anger are more likely to suffer from anxiety and phobias.
The symptoms of megalophobia are similar to those seen in any other phobias, except that the trigger is a large object or being. People have different experiences with megalophobia. While some may develop mild reactions when exposed to triggers, in other cases, the symptoms could be quite severe and deteriorate to a full-blown panic attack. 1 in 3 people reported in a particular study that their specific phobias greatly impaired their daily life.6
In addition to having anxiety when seeing or even thinking about a trigger, some physical symptoms can be seen like:
- Difficulty in breathing or feeling like you’re choking
- Sweating and trembling
- Fast heartbeats
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Having a feeling of tightness in your chest
- Feeling numb or having weird sensations in your fingers
- Having headaches
- Feeling confused or disorientated
These symptoms can occur suddenly and in severe cases, occur in association with emotional symptoms such as the feeling of dread, loss of control and sometimes fearing your death.4 Unfortunately, these reactions could be so bad that people decide to avoid the trigger altogether, but this doesn’t help as it just consolidates the belief that large things are dangerous, making the reactions much worse whenever they are exposed to the trigger.
This is quite a serious mental health condition especially since it isn’t reported as much1 and there aren’t many studies specifically on megalophobia. However, even with the scarcity of studies, more than half of people with specific phobias stated that it had negatively impacted their lives. 1 in 3 people reported that the impact was quite severe.6
People with megalophobia may consciously avoid large buildings and transportation and that is quite difficult to manage especially while living in a city. They might miss vacations or important family events because of the crippling fear around planes or statues or any large things. We are social beings so this phobia could drastically impede interactions with people and the environment.
Diagnosis and treatment
Usually, people with phobias do not need to see a health care provider if the phobia doesn’t cause them distress but that might be impossible because the triggers in megalophobia are large objects or beings. If you discover that your phobia is causing you much discomfort and anxiety, it would be best to see a professional.
The healthcare professional would ask you questions to ensure that you really do have megalophobia. These questions would range from the symptoms you are having, to the duration and the impact on your life. A diagnosis is made using criteria from the DSM-57 and treatment involves some self-help strategies, therapy, and occasional use of medications.4
Engaging self-help strategies could help in managing this condition4. These strategies include relaxation techniques, exposure therapy, lifestyle changes and joining a support group. Relaxation techniques aim to reduce the physical symptoms of megalophobia and involve a set of breathing exercises to help you control your breathing and relax. While doing these exercises, you could also visualise an instance in which you are exposed to a trigger and plan how you would overcome the anxiety that might develop.
With exposure therapy, you are gradually exposed to the trigger4. It could start with talking about the triggers and how you feel around them, visualising a trigger, seeing pictures of skyscrapers, for instance and then going out in public and increasing the time you spend around triggers (in this instance, a skyscraper). This is called desensitisation and it teaches your brain that the trigger is not harmful. This could really help manage the anxiety that comes with megalophobia.
Lifestyle modifications such as exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and reducing caffeinated drinks also play a role in managing anxiety or panic attacks4. These self-help techniques can be used in conjunction with therapy and medications, if required. The therapy that has been found to be very effective when it comes to managing phobias in general is called Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is a kind of talking therapy that helps you control your symptoms by changing the way you behave and think about the condition. The therapy can also help you form practical ways to deal with the symptoms.
Sometimes, medications are used to help with feelings of anxiety but they are not usually recommended because CBT and other self-help strategies are effective and without side effects. Medications are usually prescribed by medical practitioners only when they are necessary. Some of the medications are antidepressants, tranquilisers and beta blockers.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common antidepressants prescribed for anxiety7. Escitalopram, Sertraline and Paroxetine are some examples of SSRIs prescribed. Common side effects of SSRIs are headaches, nausea, sleep problems and sexual problems. Clomipramine, a Tricyclic antidepressant can also be used. Some of its common side effects are dry mouth, drowsiness, and tremors.
Tranquillisers such as Diazepam can be used but they are only prescribed at the lowest dose and for a short period of time. They can cause confusion and tremors as side effects. It is important to know that antidepressants and tranquillisers should be stopped gradually so you do not have withdrawal symptoms.
Beta blockers are another category of medications used specifically for the rapid heartbeat seen with anxiety. Propranolol is commonly used and some of its side effects are tiredness, troubles with sleep and stomach problems.4
Megalophobia is a mental health condition, defined as the irrational fear of large things and beings. It is a particular kind of specific phobia that can greatly affect the lives of those who suffer from it.
If, while regarding this article, you suspect that you have megalophobia, please know that you are not alone and there is help available for you. Avoiding large objects is near impossible and only gives a momentary relief. It doesn’t address the reason behind your symptoms. Seek help from healthcare professionals if this condition is affecting your quality of life. There are support groups you can join to meet people who are managing or have overcome their phobias and there are therapies that can help as well.
- “Megalophobia (Fear of Large Objects): Symptoms & Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21742-megalophobia. Accessed 27 July 2023.
- Isaac. “Megalophobia – Meaning, Origin, Usage.” DigitalCultures, 28 Sept. 2020, Available from: https://digitalcultures.net/slang/psychological/megalophobia/.
- Phobias: DSM-5, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment. 12 Jan. 2022, Available from: https://pro.psycom.net/assessment-diagnosis-adherence/phobia.
- “Overview - Phobias.” Nhs.Uk, 15 Feb. 2021, Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/overview/.
- “Megalophobia: Humanity’s Bizarre Fear of Large Objects, Explained by a Psychologist.” BBC Science Focus Magazine, Available from: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/megalophobia/. Accessed 27 July 2023.
- Wardenaar, Klaas J., et al. “The Cross-National Epidemiology of Specific Phobia in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Psychological Medicine, vol. 47, no. 10, July 2017, pp. 1744–60. PubMed Central, Available from: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717000174.7.
- Anxiety and Phobias: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment | Psycom. 2 Feb. 2022, Available from: https://www.psycom.net/specific-phobias.