Anthophobia: Fear of Flowers

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A persistent, intense fear of flowers is called anthophobia. Not to be confused with anthropophobia, or the fear of people, people with anthophobia may be afraid of all flowers or fear only one or more specific type of flowers. This condition is considered rare but is a type of specific phobia, conditions that, as a whole, are relatively common.

In fact, specific phobia is estimated to impact around 9% to 10% of adults in the United States each year. Specific phobia is an anxiety disorder that encompasses any extreme, overwhelming, or unreasonable fear of a specific situation or object that poses no or minimal real danger, such as dogs, spiders, public speaking, heights, scissors, or seeing blood.

Symptoms

People who have a specific phobia, including anthophobia, may experience the following symptoms when exposed to, anticipating, or just thinking about the object of their phobia:

  • Avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Choking feeling or difficulty breathing
  • Excessive fear
  • Heart palpitations
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling, dizziness, or fainting
  • Urge to escape or avoidance

Specific phobia is differentiated from a general fear by the intensity, irrationality, and persistence of the fear experienced by a person with a true phobia.

Someone with a general fear or dislike of flowers is able to regulate themselves and face their anxiety, which does not impede their life in a significant way.

In contrast, someone with anthophobia may become paralyzed with anxiety or trepidation and their phobia takes a great toll on their daily life, relationships, and mental health. Even though someone with anthophobia understands that their fear is irrational, they are unable to overcome feelings of dread, which tend to have an increasingly detrimental impact on their lives.

For instance, they may stop going outside in order to avoid any possible exposure to flowers. Going to other peoples' homes, restaurants, weddings, funerals, out in nature, or anywhere else that flowers may be seen can also become sources of avoidance and trauma. Even simply thinking about flowers may cause panic. For these reasons, treatment becomes necessary to help those with anthophobia cope.

Complications & Comorbidities

Comorbidity of various phobias or other health conditions often occurs with many specific phobias but is thought to be especially prevalent with anthophobia. These coexisting conditions are often a primary factor contributing to the phobia.

While anthophobia itself is irrational, this phobia sometimes occurs in conjunction with various relevant medical and mental health conditions.

Plants, and flowers specifically, can cause allergies and skin reactions in sensitive individuals, which, in turn, may play a role in the development or severity of anthophobia.

When a person suffers from a medical condition that's triggered by one or more flowers, avoiding those flowers is a good way to stay healthy. By definition, a justified fear is not diagnosable as a phobia, which is considered an irrational fear. 

Nonetheless, it is possible for those with medical concerns to become overwhelmed by their fears and ultimately develop a legitimate phobia. If a person is sensitive to only one or two flowers yet begins to avoid all flowers, their fear is no longer reasonable and justified. It can be difficult to tell when a healthy avoidance becomes an unhealthy phobia, so professional guidance may be appropriate.

For some people, the fear of flowers is actually based on another phobia. Those with the fear of germs, for example, might be afraid of contamination from soil, which evolves into a fear of plants and flowers. Those who fear bees or other insects may worry that flowers are infested with bugs. People with food phobias might be afraid of flowers that are used in cooking.

Many people suffer from more than one phobia.

In these cases, treating the underlying phobia generally eliminates the anthophobia. However, it can be difficult to determine exactly which phobias are involved and how they interact. Additionally, many people with specific phobias also live with depression, anxiety, and/or other mood disorders.

Causes

Why exactly anthophobia occurs remains unknown. However, the causes of this phobia are thought to be some combination of negative experiences, genetic and environmental factors, and individual brain chemistry.

Often, the culprit is linked to previous negative experiences with flowers. For example, a person may have seen a scary scene in a film or TV show that involved flowers or witnessed a parent being afraid of flowers. These experiences might be enough to precipitate the development of anthophobia later in life.

If a person experienced a traumatic event where flowers were present, such as at the funeral of a loved one, they may develop a fear of flowers in response.

Additionally, the propensity for developing specific phobias is known to run in families, although it is unclear if this is due to genetic factors, learned behavior, or a combination of these factors.

Some people cannot trace their anthophobia to a specific event at all. Either way, identifying the exact cause of the phobia is not required to treat it.

Risk Factors

Most often, specific phobias begin in childhood but can occur at any age. Women are also more likely to develop phobias than men. Other risk factors include:

  • The presence of other specific phobias
  • Family history of anthophobia or other specific phobias
  • An overly sensitive, negative, or shy temperament
  • Negative experiences or hearing about negative experiences with flowers

Diagnosis

As explained above, phobias are distinguished from regular fears by their irrationality and detrimental impact. Additionally, while a typical childhood fear, such as of the dark, the woods, or snakes, tends to go away with time, true phobias are persistent and usually worsen with time when left untreated.

A trained mental health professional can tease out the various issues at play and develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses all of the concerns in each individual case. This is important as each person's specific phobia experience and treatment will be relatively unique.

Multiple types of mental health professionals can diagnose and treat anthophobia, including psychotherapists, psychologists, and licensed therapists specializing in treating phobias and anxiety disorders. Your primary care physician is also a good resource for getting a diagnosis and finding appropriate treatment.

Key diagnostic criteria, according to the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), include evaluating the intensity of the fear as well as the negative effects the specific phobia has on the person's daily life.

Mental health professionals will assess a person's psychological and physical symptoms, triggers, avoidance and coping behaviors, family history, and any other relevant mental health or physical considerations.

Treatment

The most commonly used treatments for specific phobias include exposure therapy and cognitive behaviorial therapy (CBT), both of which have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and/or eliminating phobias altogether. Often, these approaches are utilized in tandem.

In exposure therapy, a person coping with anthophobia is gradually and repeatedly exposed to the source of their fear in a controlled, safe environment supported by a therapist.

For example, a person who fears tulips will be shown the flower in a controlled setting, while practicing anxiety-reducing techniques. The intensity of these experiences is increased as the person develops healthy coping skills. Sometimes, virtual reality (VR) treatments are used as well.

In CBT, treatment involves learning new ways of looking at the fear and teaches techniques to change thought patterns to disrupt and transform phobic thoughts rather than becoming overwhelmed by them.

Medications, such as beta-blockers (to inhibit adrenaline) or sedatives (to reduce anxiety), are also sometimes prescribed to manage acute symptoms of panic.

Coping

Lifestyle strategies that reduce anxiety can also be helpful in managing the symptoms of anthophobia. These remedies may include mindfulness and relaxation techniques, both which can help reduce the severity of symptoms.

While self-help strategies are helpful, seeking treatment from a mental health specialist is vital. Untreated, anthophobia and other specific phobias can lead to social isolation, substance use, feelings of hopelessness, and even suicidal ideation.

With support, people with anthophobia can overcome their fears. Talking about their phobia with loved ones or finding a support group can be particularly helpful. Self-care is especially important, including getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as treating any other mental health concerns that may coexist with the anthophobia.

Additionally, experts recommend making a point not to avoid the specific phobia. Instead, make a plan, ideally with the help of a trained mental health professional, to work on alleviating the phobia and practicing the skills learned in therapy.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a phobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Having a fear of flowers can seem silly and irrational—even to the person with anthophobia. However, this phobia is very real to the person experiencing it and can have significant detrimental impact, particularly if the trauma they experience is ridiculed or minimized by those who don't understand.

Luckily, help is available. With treatment, many people with specific phobias have learned to effectively cope with and/or overcome their fears—and begin enjoying their lives.

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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia. Updated November 2017.

  2. Mental Health America. Phobias.

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