What Is Phasmophobia?

Introduction to Phasmophobia

Definition of phasmophobia

Phasmophobia is the intense and uncontrollable fear of ghosts and the supernatural.1 

Understanding Phobias

Brief overview of phobias and their nature

A phobia is not the same as a simple fear or anxiety regarding an object or situation. To be classed as a phobia, the individual needs to display specific  criteria. While a fear of a specific situation or item can cause distress or discomfort, a phobia brings about  these feelings (and more) to the extent that they can disrupt an individual's day to day life. You could develop a phobia towards any item, situation, or event, as there are many different underlying and interconnected causes for phobias.

Phasmophobia as a Specific Phobia

Defining phasmophobia as a fear of ghosts or supernatural entities

The word Phasmophobia comes from the combination of two words. The first part of the word comes from the Latin word ‘phasm’ which means ‘an apparition of light’ whereas  the second comes from the Greek word ‘phóbos’ which can be translated to ‘fear’.  

Common triggers and situations that evoke phasmophobia

While Phasmophobia is the fear of ghosts, there may be triggers that don’t link directly to ‘seeing’ any supernatural apparitions. For instance, an individual may fail to fall asleep due to fear of being attacked by ghosts in their sleep. Or they may experience intense feelings of anxiety and distress as it gets dark (since ghosts are traditionally seen at night or at least after dark). Furthermore, they may experience a disproportionate reaction towards hearing ghost stories which goes beyond the usual temporary fear that accompanies such activities. While it is normal to shiver  as a result of hearing supernatural stories, the fear that comes from phasmophobia disrupts an individual’s everyday life. 

Causes and Origins

Possible reasons for the development of phasmophobia

There are many different reasons why someone may develop phasmophobia. This can include a traumatically scary  experience at a young age. Or it can be caused by a fear that was never really addressed and carried over into adulthood.

Symptoms and Reactions

Emotional and physical responses to phasmophobia

Phasmophobia can cause a number of different responses upon perceiving  a triggering stimulus.2 The individual may experience fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the stimulus. Even the thought of ghosts or the supernatural may result in feelings of dread.

The physical symptoms of phasmophobia may be similar to a number of other anxiety-related disorders. This can include hyperventilation, increased  heart-rate, dizziness, nausea, tightness in the chest, numbness, and insomnia.

Avoidance behaviors and their impact on daily life

With some phobias, it may be easier to avoid triggering stimuli, but with this may be harder with Phasmophobia and this  avoidant behavior can greatly affect daily life.3 Phasmophobia may result in an individual feeling intense fear and anxiety towards sleeping alone or towards the dark due to fear of encountering a ghost. This may mean they are unable to sleep at night, which can greatly impact their day-to-day life. Being unable to sleep may initially mean they are very tired during the day and interfere with them being able to concentrate at school or work. But this can also lead to health problems as it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal 24-hour clock which allows an individual to follow a daily routine). Furthermore, lack of sleep fuels a vicious circle of increased tiredness leading to increased stress and so forth which, in turn, worsens Phasmophobia’s risk of manifesting.

Diagnosis and Assessment

Criteria for diagnosing phasmophobia

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), phasmophobia is not recognised on its own as a phobia.4 Instead, it is classed as a specific phobia and the criteria to get a diagnosis includes:

  • The phobia has lasted longer than six months.
  • The fear cannot be attributed to any other mental disorder or condition as specific phobias do have some overlapping symptoms with other anxiety disorders.
  • The fear and/or reaction is extremely out of proportion in relation to the stimulus.
  • The phobia is ‘life-limiting’ as in the reactions or fear of the stimulus can disrupt the individual’s day to day activities and interfere with their school/work and personal life. 

Evaluation by mental health professionals

If you believe you have a phobia, then it is important to seek a diagnosis from a mental health professional as they would be able to help manage symptoms through various treatments. This is particularly helpful if your phobia interferes with your daily life.

Treatment and Management

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for phasmophobia

There are a few different treatments for specific phobias such as phasmophobia. Speak to a professional to decide on the best possible treatment for each individual case. One such treatment is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a talking therapy and focuses on identifying thoughts and feelings linked to the phobia and challenging them. This can be particularly helpful for some people, especially when trying to identify what originally caused the phobia. Your therapist may also assign you some work outside of the sessions such as keeping a diary to keep track of your thoughts.

Exposure therapy and desensitisation techniques

Exposure therapy is a little different and may not be suitable for everyone depending on the severity of your phobia. For someone who displays a lot of avoidant behaviors, it may prove to be helpful as they can be confronted with the fear causing stimuli in a controlled environment. This can allow them to work through their fear and overcome it or at least become desensitised toward it. However, this can be a little more difficult if the fear-inducing stimulus is not a tangible object or, as in the case of ghosts. It may also cause distress, so it is important to carry out such therapy under the direct supervision of a professional. Not every form of therapy is suitable for all individuals, and it is important to explore different options with your therapist when discussing the best treatment options.

Medications and their role in severe cases

While medication cannot help to overcome the phobia itself, it may actually be helpful in very severe cases of phasmophobia. If the  symptoms of phasmophobia are causing severe disruption to your daily life, it may be worth discussing trying some anxiety medication to help manage the physical symptoms such as an increased heart-rate, hyperventilation, sweating, and dizziness. The medication will not directly address your feelings of fear, but they can help you control the physical symptoms as they are similar to those experienced by people with anxiety, enabling one to function through day-to-day activities. This can also be paired with other forms of therapy to address the thoughts behind the phobia through either CBT or exposure therapy.

Coping Strategies

Self-help techniques for managing phasmophobia

Self-help techniques can prove to be helpful in some cases. This could involve breathing techniques to help ease you through feelings of anxiety,visualising, which involves breathing techniques to relax while you think about ways to deal with triggering stimuli. There may also be support groups to talk to other people who suffer from phasmophobia.

Support systems and the importance of seeking help

It is very important to remember you are not alone with phasmophobia. Many people feel ashamed to admit their fears resulting in low numbers of diagnosis, but it is actually a more  common fear than you think. Talking to a loved one can help relieve some feelings of distress or anxiety around the topic. It can also be the first step to seeking professional help as they can support you through treatment. 

Media and Phasmophobia

The depiction of ghosts and the supernatural in the media definitely does not help with the perception of ghosts and increases the fear around the topic. For example, ghosts are generally portrayed as antagonists in films or horror games. The popular video game ‘Phasmophobia’ uses the fear of ghosts as a form of entertainment; the player works either alone or as a team to identify a ghost that is haunting a house all while avoiding the violent attacks of an angry ghost. Many horror films and tv shows also utilise an angry or vengeful ghost as a plot device to scare the viewer. These negative stereotypes do not help and instead may reinforce an individual’s belief that they are right to fear ghosts. Furthermore, telling ghost stories is present as a tradition in many different cultures and especially amongst children, which can contribute towards their fear of ghosts.


If you suffer from phasmophobia it is extremely important to remember you are not alone. The fear of ghosts is actually fairly common and unfortunately reinforced by the abundance of negative portrayals of ghosts in popular media. Phasmophobia can range from mild to severe enough to disrupt your day-to-day life. Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome phasmophobia. You can start by seeing your GP and getting a referral for CBT or making an appointment with a therapist to explore other types of therapy.

  1. Izwan SS, Khalid PZM, Aimullah M. Modeling phasmophobia (Fear of ghosts) using electroencephalogram. IJEECS [Internet]. 2022 May 1 [cited 2023 Oct 4];26(2):743. Available from: http://ijeecs.iaescore.com/index.php/IJEECS/article/view/26869
  2. Perotta G. Anxiety Disorders: Definitions, Contexts, Neural Correlates And Strategic Therapy. Jacobs Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience [Internet]. 2019 Mar; Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344425850_Anxiety_Disorders_Definitions_Contexts_Neural_Correlates_And_Strategic_Therapy
  3. Department of Nursing, College of Applied Medical Sciences, Majmaah University, Al-Majmaah 11952, Saudi Arabia, Et Al. F, College of Nursing, Angeles University Foundation, Angeles 2009, Philippines. A qualitative phenomenological venture of individuals’ experiences with a phobia. Int j adv appl sci [Internet]. 2020 Jul [cited 2023 Oct 4];7(7):68–74. Available from: http://www.science-gate.com/IJAAS/2020/V7I7/1021833ijaas202007008.html
  4. American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, editors. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. 947 p.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Saba Amber

Medicinal and Biological Chemistry- BSc, Manchester Metropolitan University

Saba is a recent graduate in Medicinal Biochemistry with a particular interest in pharmacology.

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