Understanding Xylophobia or the Fear of Wooded Areas

Full Length Rear View Of Girl Standing In Forest On Sunny Day
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Xylophobia, also known as hylophobia, is the irrational fear of wooded areas. Some people find that their fear is worse at night, while others are equally afraid at all times of the day. Xylophobia is sometimes connected to other phobias, such as animal fears, but may also occur alone.

Rational Fears

Some people are not afraid of the woods, but of entering them due to real or perceived dangers. For example, people with certain medical conditions may worry that they will be unable to contact a rescuer if they become ill or injured when hiking alone. Those who feel vulnerable, such as some women and children, may worry about being attacked by a human. Those who live in areas known for attacks by bears or other animals may be concerned about coming into contact with a dangerous animal. By definition, a phobia is an irrational fear. If your fear is grounded in realistic concerns, it is not a phobia.

Animal Phobias

Although it is normal to be concerned about animal attacks in some areas, those with animal phobias typically have an elevated level of fear that is disproportionate to the situation. In addition, some people fear woodland creatures that pose little danger to humans, such as snakes or spiders. Animal phobias often heighten the fear of the woods and, in some cases, are actually the reason for the xylophobia.

Fear of the Dark

Some cases of xylophobia are rooted in a fear of the dark. Heavily wooded areas are relatively dark all day long, with tall trees casting shadows on paths and clearings. Like animal phobias, the fear of the dark may worsen an existing fear of the woods or even be the primary cause of that fear.

Fear of the Unknown

For some people, a fear of the woods is based on a fear of the unknown. Modern society provides few opportunities to get back to nature, so people who have always lived in urban areas may not be well acclimated to being in large wooded areas. Unusual sights, sounds, smells, and textures tend to throw us off balance, making us feel wary. Wooded areas may be loud with animal noises or eerily silent. Wild plants often look far different than houseplants. Even walking through grass, mud or dirt feels far different than walking on a paved road or sidewalk. Those with a fear of the unknown may be at increased risk for developing anxiety when exploring the woods.

How to Cope

Fortunately, it is not necessary to identify the underlying issues in order to battle a fear of the woods. For a relatively mild fear, knowledge and exposure may be enough to combat the anxiety.

  • Research the area in which you will hike or camp well in advance.
  • Learn to recognize common plants and animals, plot out a route, and carry a good map. There are also many reliable GPS units for hiking that are available for under $100.
  • Make an emergency plan and always let someone know where you are going and when you will return.
  • Consider seeking professional help with a more severe phobia.

Like all phobias, xylophobia responds well to a variety of treatment methods. Untreated, however, the fear may worsen over time, and even lead to additional phobias.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.