For many people, gazing up into the stars is a calming and relaxing past time. It may help them to relax or feel a sense of calm. However, not everyone feels calm and serene when looking up into the night sky. For some people, the night sky can cause feelings of panic, racing heart, dizziness, and fear. If these sound familiar, you may suffer from Astrophobia.
What is Astrophobia?
Astrophobia is the fear of the stars, outer space, and the night sky. It may also be related to an intense fear of aliens. Astrophobia is a specific phobia, meaning a person experiences intense fear and panic related to a specific object or situation, in this case, the sky, outer space, or aliens.
Living with Astrophobia
Phobias, such as astrophobia, are often considered irrational, meaning the person knows, logically, that they do not need to be afraid. The body’s fight/flight response activates when presented with the feared situation (being outside at night). The body produces responses to help you escape the situation quickly without harm. Therefore, your heart may race, your breathe may quickens, and your body prepares for action.
Humans are adaptable creatures and will seek ways to avoid discomfort. The fight or flight response is not comfortable! It is designed not to be comfortable as your body does not want you to stay there. For those struggling with Astrophobia, this means avoiding going outside at night. This may interfere with your life if you choose not to go out with friends, have pets that need to be let outside at night, or struggle to find work during the daylight only hours.
Seeking counseling to work through astrophobia can help you process the fears and reduce your body’s response to outer space. Counseling also helps to work on coping strategies to improve your ability to tolerate the discomfort of being outside in the dark.
Exposure-based therapy is one of the most commonly used treatment options in counseling for a phobia, like astrophobia. This type of treatment starts with helping the client develop strategies to calm their bodies and cope with anxiety. After the client has developed healthy coping strategies, the client is slowly exposed to stimuli that activate the fear response in a controlled and manageable way.
For astrophobia, a client may be asked to think about going outside at dusk or shown a picture of a sunset. The client learns to manage the fear and emotions to the stimuli until it does not activate their full fear response. They may then be shown a picture of a star or the moon, and again, the mental health professional helps them cope with the emotions and manage the fear response. The exposure continues to increase to more provoking stimuli as the client is able to handle it.
It may sound frightening to go to therapy to be exposed to your biggest fear. However, exposure therapy is a gradual process, and the goal is not to overwhelm you.
Your sessions will not be at midnight under the moon! The goal of exposure therapy is to give the client resources to cope with the fear and slowly integrate those resources so when the client is exposed to the night sky, they are less fearful and better able to cope.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can also help identify the fear and change the automatic thoughts related to the fears. CBT is typically used together with exposure therapy to help identify and process the thought process and reduce the body’s fear response.
Coping with Astrophobia
Working through astrophobia is best done with a mental health professional, as working on it alone could make it worse. By exposing yourself to your fear without the gradual processing of therapy, you could intensify it by overwhelming the body’s fear response.
Many people with specific phobias, do not seek treatment. The idea of seeking treatment may be too scary, embarrassing, or may not feel like a ‘good enough’ reason to attend therapy.
While working through astrophobia alone is not recommended, developing coping strategies may be helpful first steps in working through any phobia. Relaxation strategies such as meditation and mindfulness help the body learn to be calm and focused on the body sensations. Small steps towards facing your fear may be helpful, such as looking out the window at dusk.
Other strategies such as distraction, like listening to music when you must walk outside at night or having a support person present when you spend a short time under the night sky.
The fear of being outside at night can be a debilitating phobia as it can impact how you function in your life. Treatment for phobias, helps develop coping strategies and decrease the fear response.
If astrophobia or another phobia is impacting your ability to do the things you want, find a mental health professional to help you.