How To Overcome Chronophobia And The Fear Of The Future

We've all had moments when we reflect on how quickly time seems to pass. This awareness of a ticking clock can remind us of our mortality. It can lead us to feel anxious about our place in the world. Perhaps you even find yourself panicking about the future at some point every day, to the point that it is beginning to undermine your happiness. If that's the case, you're not alone. There is a specific phobia (chronophobia) associated with just these types of thoughts and feelings, and it's normal to find this fear extremely challenging to deal with.

In this guide, we'll explore the nature of chronophobia, canvassing its most common causes and providing an overview of the most frequent symptoms it causes. Ultimately, we'll move on to look at how to reduce the anxiety you might feel about time passing, outlining six distinct strategies and explaining how you can apply them in everyday life.

What Is Chronophobia?

Let’s start by asking the most basic question: what does ‘chronophobia’ mean?

Sometimes called fear of the future or simply time anxiety, chronophobia is characterized by a constant (or almost constant) awareness of the passing of time. Crucially, the fear felt by chronophobes isn't about a particular event in the future; it's about the passing of time itself.

In the majority of cases, it is associated with worries about having limited time on earth to accomplish everything that you want to do, and with an idealized image of the kind of life you “should” be leading. As such, it can often also come with regrets about past opportunities that you feel you may have wasted. Many chronophobes also report a visceral dislike of looking at the time or at their calendar.

Anyone can struggle with this phobia, but it is most common in those who already suffer from other forms of anxiety. In particular, you're more likely to be affected by chronophobia if you regularly experience fear of missing out (commonly known as “FOMO”), or if you have difficulty giving up control. However, there are often specific triggers for chronophobia as well, and we'll look at some of those below.

Do You Have A Fear Of Time? 10 Chronophobia Symptoms

While the above outline should give you a broad sense of what it's like to have chronophobia, it's helpful to understand how the phobia tends to manifest in a person's life.

Some of the most common chronophobia symptoms include the following:

  1. Increased heart rate and fast breathing. This is especially prominent when thinking about the passing of time (or about the future). Sometimes, this may escalate to hyperventilation or to a panic attack.
  2. Intense feelings of fear any time you think about time.
  3. Widespread bodily tension. This often causes sore shoulders or chronic headaches. Consequently, physical manifestation makes it very difficult to stop thinking about the source of the phobia.
  4. Intrusive thoughts about the passing of time, even when you're trying to concentrate on something else.
  5. A dry mouth. This sometimes makes it difficult to swallow or speak and may be especially noticeable any time someone else brings up thoughts, feelings or questions about the future.
  6. Nightmares or sleep disturbances. This is often associated with thoughts or images related to the future.
  7. Repeated attempt to avoid things that remind you of the passing of time (e.g. having no clocks at home, or finding it difficult to discuss future plans).
  8. Nausea, vomiting and feeling faint (when the fear is particularly extreme).
  9. Impacts on your social life. For example, struggling to pay attention to friends or family members due to being fixated on your worries about the passing of time.
  10. Difficulty finding any particular thing that makes you fear the future (this is the symptom that differentiates chronophobia from simply fearing a specific event or experience).

If more than one of the above signs and symptoms sound familiar, it's highly likely that you have at least a degree of chronophobia. But why have you developed it at this point in your life, and what are the most common causes?

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What Causes Chronophobia?

Many different things can cause variations on fear of time. Sometimes, the trigger is related to reminders of the human lifespan. For example, a trigger could be an important birthday or noticing that most of your peers have started families of their own. Perceived failures (e.g. losing a job or ending a relationship) may also instigate the early symptoms of chronophobia. Further, it's common to develop chronophobia in the wake of a death. Consequently, this trigger can lead to chronophobia even at a very young age.

However, there are also more unusual circumstances that can cause a fear of time. It is actually most common in prison environments, where people have to face the same monotonous environment every day. Similarly, long hospital stays or terminal illnesses can trigger fear of time. In addition, if you've experienced a major trauma (such as surviving a natural disaster or life-threatening violence), life can seem uncertain and fragile. It's important to be aware that chronophobia can also overlap with serious mental health difficulties such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you think you may have the latter condition, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist; you may find that treating the PTSD also helps to eliminate the chronophobia.

How To Reduce Anxiety About Time Passing

The good news is that it's possible to reduce (or in some cases, entirely eliminate) chronophobia from your life. However, it takes time and effort to establish the habits that help to combat this fear. Any form of talk therapy can be useful, as it will help you to understand how and why this particular phobia developed, with the help of an objective, experienced third party.

However, there are also plenty of techniques that you can try at home, starting today. As a bonus, many of which can also help you to deal with any persistent source of anxiety.

We’ll look at a range of approaches to chronophobia treatment. Remember, you may find that some are a better fit for you than others. You don't need to practice all of them in order to see a substantial improvement in your phobia. That said, it's well worth trying each suggestion! You may be surprised by the outcome.

1. Concentrate On What You Can Control

If you have a future phobia of any kind, the discomfort associated with lack of control often plays a major role in your anxiety.

Yes, it's impossible to predict what will happen in your future or to know if you'll be happy in ten years, next year, or even tomorrow. This means you will always have to live with some uncertainty. However, there are things you can control that help to shape your future! Focusing on these things can be incredibly empowering.

To start with, try making a list of the things you can control. For example, you might include everything from your diet to how you spend your free time. Also consider who you socialize with, and what you do to support your mental health. To take this a step further, note down a few things you want to do with respect to each item on the list. Then, plan to achieve your vision for each area.

2. Meditate

Meditation has wide-ranging benefits, especially if you're struggling with any kind of anxiety. Not only does it provide you with a new way to de-escalate in times of stress, but it also changes your brain over time. In particular, it helps you to regulate your own emotions more effectively and reduces your likelihood of becoming overwhelmed.

Perhaps most importantly, meditation and mindfulness exercises encourage you to live wholly in the present moment, which is a powerful weapon against worrying about the future.

If you already know how to meditate, combat your chronophobia by practicing a mindfulness exercise every day. And if you're new to these types of techniques, start with the most basic. Simply spend ten minutes focusing on deep, even breathing, and noticing what each of your senses tells you about your environment.

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3. Understand Your Phobia

When you’re struggling with a fear of the future phobia, it’s incredibly helpful to build up a deeper understanding of that fear. For many people, it’s a fear of time running out, or of leaving an underwhelming legacy. As noted above, developing your understanding of chronophobia is something that you can do with a counselor. However, it's also something that you can work on at home, especially if you're willing to keep a journal that tracks the thoughts and feelings associated with your fear.

You may find it particularly helpful to give yourself permission to write a stream of consciousness entry about your chronophobia. This means allowing absolutely all of your thoughts and feelings to come out as they are, regardless of the order and with no regard for editing. You may notice some helpful connections that your subconscious mind makes when it's allowed to roam freely in this way.

4. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

When you have a fear of the future, anxiety is often a major part of your daily life. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to learn to manage anxiety. These techniques can transform how you feel about the passing of time.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is supported by scientific evidence as one of the most effective treatments for fears, so consider taking this approach. This type of therapy is typically short-term and involves helping you to identify and then replace unhelpful thinking patterns and assumptions.

In time, your default responses should change, and chronophobia should have less of an impact on you.

It's worth noting that cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't negate the potential need for long-term therapy that focuses on your past experiences and patterns of relating to others. These are two very different types of self-development work; both can make a big difference in how you view anxieties and phobias.

5. Learn More About Your Phobia

Some people also benefit from reading about chronophobia. There are a few reasons why this might be a good idea for you. Firstly, if you're having a hard time identifying your own triggers and understanding the development of your phobia, learning more about it can help you to make more sense of the experiences you've been having. Secondly, reading about chronophobia can demystify it. In this way, you can develop a clearer sense of what your brain is doing (and why it's doing it). On a related note, any reading that you do can normalize your struggles. This process can emphasize the idea that many people have been exactly where you are now.

If learning about your difficulties feels helpful to you, it may be worth researching anxieties and phobias more generally as well. Grasping the neuroscience and psychology behind these reactions can make it easier to reason yourself out of chronophobic responses. Plus, it can also help you to feel more in control.

6. Start To Challenge Yourself

Ultimately, it's important to push past your comfort zone. Facing up to your chronophobia can reframe it for you, making it seem smaller and less significant. It can also build your confidence, showing you that you're capable of dealing with troubling thoughts and feelings. However, it's important to know what helps to relax or calm you before challenging yourself in any major way. Therefore, it is worth remembering that you have the resources to respond to triggers.

There are lots of ways in which you might challenge yourself, depending on the particulars of your chronophobia. For example, you might bring a clock back into your living room. Alternatively, you might set the goal of thinking about three uncertain parts of the future and trying to make peace with that uncertainty. Other suggestions include speaking about your fear with others. Very often, the things that scare us start to lose power once we stop keeping them secret.