Dystychiphobia is the scientific label for an excessive and irrational fear of accidents, and for some victims this fear can become so severe that it will significantly alter their life choices.
A person suffering from this condition becomes obsessed with the idea that their actions will either cause an accident or somehow put them in harm’s way, and if that happens, they feel powerless to prevent a potentially grim final outcome.
Almost everyone feels some sense of trepidation and attempts to proceed cautiously when they are in an obviously dangerous situation, but dystychiphobics experience feelings of extreme fear in contexts that would seem entirely safe to most people. If something bad could conceivably happen, dystychiphobics will be aware of the risk, no matter how miniscule it might be, and they will often replay the most horrible scenarios over and over in their minds until they become paralyzed with dread and overwhelmed by premonitions of impending disaster.
The one bit of good news is that this condition is usually quite narrowly focused, especially in its early stages. In other words, people suffering from an excessive fear of accidents will most often experience its symptoms only in a few specific situations and not in every aspect of their lives. Those who are overwhelmed no matter where they go or what they do would be more accurately identified as agoraphobics, while the typical dystychiphobia sufferer might be overcome with anxiety only when driving, walking outside after dark, climbing a ladder, or working in an environment where toxic chemicals are used or stored nearby.
These examples of circumstances that can provoke excessive fear responses illustrate an interesting point about this illness, and that is the fact that it is not entirely disconnected with reality. Tens of thousands of people are killed in automobile accidents each year, for example, and sometimes serious accidents do occur in workplaces where risky chemicals are present. But the odds of such a thing happening on a particular day and at a particular time are remote, and it is this greater perspective that eludes dystychiphobics. If something can happen, they are convinced it probably will, and it is almost as if they see themselves as jinxed or cursed.
The triumph of fear
Not surprisingly, those who suffer from dystychiphobia have in most instances experienced an accident in real life that is directly related to the circumstances they have come to fear. Or, alternatively, they may have been very close to someone who was killed or critically injured in a certain setting, and the memory of that tragic loss will eventually lead the dystychiphobic to develop extreme and persistent feelings of worry and self-consciousness when they find themselves in equivalent situations.
A dystychiphobic episode is essentially a type of panic attack, and is likely to include at least some of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations/rapid pulse
- Dry mouth
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Feelings of unsteadiness
- Excessive sweating
- An obsessive concern with fainting or passing out
- A deep and pervasive sense of dread or impending doom
Anyone experiencing such symptoms should not be operating a motor vehicle or other type of heavy machinery, working with substances that must be handled with great care, or doing anything remotely dangerous or capable of testing a person’s equilibrium. Dystychiphobia can quickly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and for the safety of everyone — including themselves — dystychiphobics really have no choice but to avoid the places and behaviors that trigger their deepest anxiety responses.
In some cases, these sorts of avoidance strategies may not disrupt a person’s life too significantly. However, when people are afraid to drive a car or to perform important duties on the job because of their irrational fears, this is obviously a serious situation and it is something that should be addressed. But even if episodes of dystychiphobia are relatively mild or seem to occur only in easily avoidable circumstances, if left untreated the disorder could worsen and begin to affect other areas of a person’s life, which is why anyone suffering from symptoms that are consistent with a diagnosis of dystychiphobia would be wise to seek advice and guidance from a psychotherapist as soon as possible.
Accidents can happen, but so can healing
If you believe you might be suffering from dystychiphobia, you should take heart: this disorder is highly treatable, and any qualified psychologist or psychiatrist should be able to help you develop effective strategies to overcome your anxiety and reprogram your fear-driven instincts. This will undoubtedly involve exposure therapy to some extent, but this should not provoke concern; you will be allowed to tackle your disorder at a controlled and comfortable pace, and you will never be asked to confront your fears in any direct way before you are clearly ready. Slowly and surely, however, and with the help of a trained professional, you will be able to escape from the clutches of the steadily escalating fears that have been holding you back and preventing you from enjoying your life to the fullest.
Accidents can and do happen, it is true, and they can happen in just about any location and at any time. But even as you recognize this incontrovertible fact you should never allow yourself to be held hostage by this awareness. The damage such a preoccupation can cause to your life could turn out to be just as bad as the effects of any accident, which would be a bitter irony and a true tragedy all at the same time.