Chronophobia or the Fear of Time

Clocks floating around an upset woman with her hands on her head
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Chronophobia is characterized by the fear of the passage of time, usually, because people fear that their time on Earth is limited or have trouble tracking its passing. Even though time isn't fully concrete, some may consider it as a type of "specific phobia," similar to how one would fear a cat or snake.


Some populations experience chronophobia, the fear of time, more than others. In fact, since it is so common in prison populations it is sometimes known as "prison neurosis." The elderly, as well as people facing terminal illnesses who worry that their time on Earth may be limited, may also face this fear. Time becomes their enemy, and they fear it because its passing will ultimately lead to their death.

The fear of time also sometimes presents in the wake of severe trauma, such as a natural disaster, particularly if the daily routine is seriously disrupted.  It is also relatively common among shipwreck survivors and others who are trapped in a high-anxiety situation with no familiar means of tracking the passage of time. In fact, a sense of a foreshortened future has previously been used as one of the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Chronophobia is marked by a sense of derealization in which time seems to speed up or slow down. Some people develop circular thought patterns, racing thoughts, and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Prisoners often mark down the days until their release.

Many victims will also experience panic, anxiety, and claustrophobia, which are common symptoms of most phobias as well as common reactions to trauma. Panic attacks, sweating, shortness of breath, and even persistently haunting thoughts are also often reported, but only in extreme cases.


In extreme cases, untreated chronophobia can lead to isolation, depression, and even increasingly disordered thinking. It is important to seek advice from a qualified mental health professional as soon as possible. Chronophobia responds well to such standard phobia treatments as cognitive-behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy. As it is closely linked with other disorders, however, it is best to diagnose and treat all concurrent conditions simultaneously.

In some cases, psychiatrists may prescribe medications, but psychotherapy remains the primary treatment for phobias.


Since the fear of time is often caused by situations that cannot be fully controlled, like illness, it is difficult to prevent. More general anxiety and stress management techniques also exist.

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Article Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.