What is Chronophobia?

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
July 24, 2019

As a society, we are ruled by time.  The time on the clock dictates what time we get up in the morning, when we arrive at work, and when we leave to pick up the kids.  Time commands us when to start dinner and when to go to bed.  The first and last thing that most of us do each day is setting and turning off our alarm clocks.  Time can be seen flashing everywhere.  It is on watches, grandfather clocks, alarm clocks, cell phones, computer screens, the microwave, and on the cable box.  It is literally everywhere. 


In addition to being ruled by time in a literal and practical sense, we are also impacted by it in an existential, less tangible sense.  The passage of time causes one to get older and consider their mortality.  Most consider time to be precious and fleeting.  Some worry about whether they are spending their time correctly, while others worry that they are wasting it.  People try to freeze time by living in the moment and taking advantage of every second.  Others try to speed up time in an effort to quickly pass through a difficult time period.

Time is complex and can be linked to anxiety, fear, and phobias.  Chronophobia is a type of anxiety disorder where a person fears time.  It is characterized by an irrational and unrelenting fear of the passage of time, having limited time, or having limited means to monitor it.  Symptoms include circular and racing thoughts, compulsive behaviors, and a type of out of body experience where time seems to either speed up or slow down.  Other physical symptoms can include panic attacks, perspiration, racing heart, and trouble breathing.

Chronophobia can lead to significant distress and impairment in everyday functioning.  It can result in isolating behaviors, sadness and depression, and impaired thinking.  Chronophobia is especially prevalent in the elderly, in those that are incarcerated, and in people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness.  These individuals worry that their time is limited and begin to develop a fear of time passing, as it will ultimately lead them closer to their mortality.  Chronophobia can also be prevalent in those who have experienced significant trauma or in those who have been in natural disasters.  These individuals develop intense fear because they cannot easily track the passage of time during these situations.

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Chronophobia is difficult to prevent, as it is often fueled by situations that are uncontrollable and cannot be prevented, such as trauma or illness.  Thankfully, chronophobia responds well to treatment.  Psychotherapy is the first line of treatment and seeks to help an individual to change irrational thought patterns.  Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of treatment that helps a person change negative thought patterns, is often used in the treatment of chronophobia.  Hypnotherapy can be another treatment option and in some cases, medication may also be prescribed.

The fact of the matter is that we are all ruled by time.  Some of us rebel against time restraints and constrictions with a blatant lack of regard for deadlines and scheduled appointments.  Some of us are used to it and comply accordingly.  Most people are contemplative about the passage of time as it relates to life and mortality without it impairing their level of functioning.  However, those with chronophobia are incapacitated by fears, which only serve to be heightened by the sounds of seconds ticking away and the thousands of blinking clocks encountered on a daily basis.   

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for a Community YMCA. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents.