What Is Bathmophobia?

The Fear of Stairs or Slopes

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What Is Bathmophobia?

Bathmophobia is the extreme fear of slopes or stairs. It is considered a specific phobia, a condition in which a person has an irrational fear of something that poses little to no danger.

Being afraid of falling down the stairs is common; however, someone with bathmophobia has a fear that disrupts their everyday life. Even thinking about stairs or slopes may trigger the symptoms of their phobia.

Bathmophobia can be seen in both children and adults. It is also fairly common among animals, particularly household pets. Dogs trained as service animals may be rejected because of their fear of stairs.

Symptoms of Bathmophobia

Bathmophobia, like other phobias, may cause someone to experience any or all of the following symptoms when confronted by the object of their fear:

  • Anxiety, especially upon encountering stairs or slopes
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling that they are in danger
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irrational worry about encountering stairs or slopes
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea

The symptoms of bathmophobia can vary from person to person. While some people might fear all types of stairs, for instance, other people might only fear large stairs or concrete stairs.

Someone with bathmophobia might not be able to talk about any kind of stairs or slopes or even see pictures or videos of stairs or slopes without feeling anxious. People with specific phobias often use avoidance behavior to make sure they don't come into contact with the source of their fear.

For instance, you might take a completely different route to work to avoid using (or even seeing) a staircase or walking up or down a slope. Someone with bathmophobia might fear going to new places, not knowing whether they'll come into contact with stairs or slopes.

Diagnosis of Bathmophobia

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the following criteria that must be present in a patient in order for a doctor or mental health professional to make a diagnosis of specific phobia:

  • The fear is irrational: A person's fear must be out of proportion to any danger that the object of their fear poses. To be diagnosed with a phobia, a person must experience intense and excessive anxiety when confronted by the source of their fear.
  • The fear disrupts everyday life: A phobia limits a person's life, including their work, their relationships, their hobbies, and more.
  • The fear has lasted at least six months: Bathmophobia, as with other phobias, is generally not diagnosed in children or adults unless it persists for more than six months.

A doctor will likely evaluate whether the patient uses avoidance behavior, which is often present in people with specific phobias.

If your child has a fear of stairs or slopes, keep in mind that fears are a normal part of development and not necessarily indicative of a phobia. Talk to a healthcare professional if you feel your child's fear is excessive, persistent, and disruptive to their everyday life.

Differential Diagnosis

Before making a diagnosis of bathmophobia, a doctor or mental health professional may want to rule out similar conditions. For instance, bathmophobia is similar to climacophobia, or the fear of climbing stairs, except in its specific focus.

If you have bathmophobia, you might panic when simply observing a steep slope, while people with climacophobia typically experience symptoms only when expected to actually climb or descend. The difference is subtle but important, and can only be accurately diagnosed by a trained clinician.

In addition, bathmophobia may be related to other disorders. Acrophobia, or the fear of heights, is exceptionally common. What appears to be a fear of stairs may, in fact, be a fear of the height that the stairs achieve. Illygnophobia, or the fear of vertigo, can also cause symptoms similar to those of bathmophobia.

Potential medical causes must also be considered. True vertigo is a medical disorder of the balance system that causes a feeling of spinning or dizziness. The term vertigo is also used to describe spinning or dizziness even when the balance system is unaffected. Any type of vertigo can be worsened by even minor changes in height. If you have a fear that is reasonable (due to an existing medical condition), it is not a phobia.

If you have medical vertigo, fearing that stairs and slopes may trigger your symptoms does not mean that you also have bathmophobia.

Causes of Bathmophobia

Bathmophobia, like other phobias, may be caused by a variety of factors. Someone who had an early negative experience with stairs or a steep hill—or who watched someone else's negative experience—may go on to develop bathmophobia.

Someone with a phobia may have learned the behavior from someone else. For instance, a child who is raised by a parent with bathmophobia may go on to develop the condition, too.

Of course, not everyone who has a negative experience relating to stairs or slopes goes on to develop bathmophobia. There are likely a number of contributing factors to a person's phobia, including genetics.

You may be more likely to develop a phobia if someone in your family has a phobia or another type of anxiety disorder.

In addition, phobias often co-occur with other types of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and mood disorders. Other diagnoses may contribute to the development of a phobia.

Treatment of Bathmophobia

Like other phobias, bathmophobia may be treated with therapy or medication.

Therapy

If your clinician determines that your symptoms are caused by bathmophobia, you are likely to receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The goal of CBT is to help you replace your fearful thoughts and behaviors with more rational alternatives. You will be taught relaxation exercises to help you remain calm, and you may be slowly introduced to the object of your fear through a process known as systematic desensitization.

Choosing a therapist that you trust is an essential component of working through your fear.

Exposure therapy is another treatment type that may help you better manage or even overcome your fear of stairs or slopes. Exposure therapy—similar to systemic desensitization—is when a therapist works with you to gradually face the object of your fear.

Depending on how severe a person's phobia is, a therapist might start by bringing up stairs or slopes in conversation or showing a picture of stairs or slopes to the patient. They will help a patient manage the anxiety that arises using healthy coping mechanisms. The goal is that, over time, a patient's fear will be less disruptive.

Hypnotherapy may also be a useful form of therapy for treating bathmophobia. A hypnotherapist guides a patient into a meditative or trance-like state and communicates helpful suggestions for overcoming their fear. The goal is that the subconscious learns these suggestions and the fear lessens over time.

Medication

In some cases, a healthcare provider might suggest medications in addition to therapy. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are sometimes prescribed for people with phobias.

SSRIs work by increasing levels of serotonin in the body, which promotes feelings of well-being and regulates mood. Examples of SSRIs include Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), and Prozac (fluoxetine).

Alternatively, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be recommended. SNRIs regulate both serotonin and norepinephrine in the body, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine) are examples of SNRIs.

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines. They produce a calming effect and may help if a person experiences extreme anxiety as a result of their phobia. Benzodiazepines have the potential for dependence, however, and are only recommended for short-term use under the supervision of a doctor.

Coping With Bathmophobia

In addition to receiving treatment, there are practices that may help you manage the stress and anxiety related to your phobia. Meditation promotes feelings of well-being and can help reduce psychological distress. If you've never tried meditation, try not to be intimidated. There are many ways to do it—it's all about finding the best ways that work for you.

If you're just starting out, try finding a quiet spot where you can sit down and close your eyes. Set a timer—you can start small at one minute and work your way up over time. Notice your thoughts but don't fixate on any particular one.

Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, blood pressure, and can help you feel more relaxed.

The next time you are having an anxious response to the object of your fear, try taking a few measured breaths in through your nose (filling up your belly with air) and then out slowly through pursed lips.

When coping with a mental health condition, it's also important to make sure that your basic needs are being met, such as getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and exercising, all of which can help reduce your stress levels. Taking care of your body and mind can help you avoid burning out as you cope with your phobia.

A Word From Verywell

If you have bathmophobia, you might be frustrated by how your fear can disrupt your life and zap you of energy. But remember that there are resources to help you cope. If you think you might have bathmophobia, talk to a primary care doctor or mental health professional who can help you take the right next step for you to treat your phobia.

In the meantime, practices like meditation or deep breathing can help you better cope with the symptoms of your anxiety in the moment.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Washington, DC; 2013.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.