Chronophobia is a specific psychological phobia which manifests itself as a persistent, abnormal and unwarranted fear of time or of the passing of time. A related but much rarer phobia is chronomentrophobia, the irrational fear of clocks and watches.
Like many other phobias, the main symptoms include panic, unease, depression, anxiety, and often a feeling of claustrophobia (of being closed in, with no escape). In some more serious cases, individuals may experience shaking, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, irregular heartbeats, even sickening states of mind, inability to articulate words, tunnel vision and overwhelmingly haunting thoughts.
Sufferers may be aware of a vague feeling that events are moving too fast and running away with themselves, and that it is difficult to make sense of the way events are unfolding. Chronophobia is often marked by a sense of derealization in which time seems to speed up or slow down, and some people may develop circular thought patterns, racing thoughts and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Who Does It Affect
Chronophobia is most often experienced by two main groups: the elderly, and by those incarcerated in prison (where it also known as prison neurosis). The elderly tend to have a lot of idle time on their hands, and often time drags very slowly for them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is common for old people, particularly those facing terminal illnesses, to be hyper-aware of their imminent death (death anxiety), and this constant threat of death can cause an overwhelming sensation of chronophobia. As people get older, their metabolism and brain functions slow down, making them even more susceptible to chronophobia. Prison inmates also tend to have extensive periods of unstructured time, which may lead them to excessive contemplation of the passing of time, the length of time of their sentence, the number of days remaining until their release, etc. They also typically experience high levels of anxiety and stress due to their circumstances, which puts them especially at risk.
Chronophobia may also affect another much smaller population: shipwreck survivors, survivors of natural disasters, and others who are trapped in a high-anxiety situation with no familiar means of tracking the passage of time. It may also be caused by a traumatic experience during childhood, or by some genetic disorder (such as adrenal insufficiency, where the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of hormones such as cortisol or aldosterone, which tends to make a person more susceptible to anxiety and fear). It occasionally appears with no apparent cause, though this is relatively rare.
Chronophobia cannot really be prevented as such, but stress relief techniques (such as avoiding stressful or anxiety-producing situations, participating in meditation, yoga, tai chi, etc) may alleviate the symptoms to some extent. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy or acupuncture may be effective treatments in some cases, and a method of psychotherapy known as neuro-linguistic programming has also shown some promise.
Medications to calm the nerves may have some short-term value, but they often have unpleasant side effects, and do not actually erase the fear but merely suppress the symptoms.