Scared of a Clear Night? Maybe You Have Astrophobia.

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You might or might not have astrophobia if you find yourself feeling anxious in outdoor darkness, but you can consider the symptoms and rationales described below to figure that out. Consult a therapist before making a decision, though. An article is a limited presentation of information, not a therapeutic encounter and certainly not a definitive look at one specific problem.

A phobia is a fear of something, and often without a rational reason for the trepidation. “Astro” is the scientific prefix for stars and other heavenly bodies. You know the words astrological, astronautics, astronauts, and the like. “Astro” also indicates activities outside earth’s atmosphere such as space flights, man-made satellites in orbit, and the formation of heavenly phenomena. Put this together, and we can understand that astrophobia is an unfounded fear of space and anything in it.

People with astrophobia marvel at someone else’s enjoyment over staring into the night, gleefully spotting full moons, comets and constellations, marveling at colorful meteor showers, and lunar or solar eclipses. Astrophobics shudder over such things, and prefer not to see them. They fear darkness (nyctophobia), harmful consequences from celestial phenomena, and just possibly from alien forms of life.  Author H. G. Wells made money by manipulating such fears when he wrote his fictional War of the Worlds novel. Magazines serialized the story in 1897, selling many copies to curious readers eager to reassure themselves that they could survive alien hostility once they understood it. The 1938 radio broadcast played on those fears. Some frightened listeners killed themselves in despair rather than be tortured by what they imagined i.e., irresistibly hostile aliens with super powers and destructive weapons. But one question remains: Why and how does astrophobia begin in the first place?

One simple source of astrophobia is naiveté; we humans don’t necessarily understand what we see before us. Sometimes we feel frightened by the lack of understanding. Natural phenomena such as eclipses, fiery objects in the sky and such leave uneducated people feeling uncertain, perhaps fearful [Ed: note that the fear of thunder and lightning are a separate problem called astraphobia, not astrophobia]. Magnifying the fear with rumors – think of all the babysitter and campfire legends that you heard about one-armed bandits, vampires, hook-handed murderers, and the like who always strike on the darkest nights or when the moon is full – can lead to the development of long-lasting, disabling fears. Those rumors build on an often unspoken reality: the fear of being alone and vulnerable when danger lurks. No matter the underlying reason for the irrational fear of outer space and everything in it, though, there are several options for recovering from astrophobia or any phobia.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which addresses how we formed our thinking patterns and ways to correct them, can end the suffering by helping the person to think productively instead of counterproductively. Exposure therapy can solve the problem by having a competent therapist increase the person’s exposure to feared phenomena and objects as their toleration for the exposure improves. Meditation and relaxation techniques can be effective in ending phobias, also. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can rewire the phobic person’s thinking into comfortable, safe lines of thought so that they see things and situations with neutrality instead of with fearfulness or dread. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) counseling intervention relies on “tapping” specific spots/meridians on the body to correct misconceptions.

If you or someone you know suffer from astrophobia or any irrational fear, speak with a competent, licensed therapist who can help you to stop suffering in a user-friendly way.