Fear of Time (Chronophobia): What to Know
Chronophobia is a persistent, intense fear of time or of time passing. Sometimes it’s known simply as “time anxiety.”
People with chronophobia might be afraid that their time is running short or that they don’t have enough time to accomplish everything they need to do. They often feel distressed when thinking about the future or preoccupied with watching the clock or calendar. They might feel so anxious when thinking about the time that they actively avoid social gatherings or milestone events in order to prevent a panic attack.
Learn more about the fear of time (chronophobia), including traits, symptoms, causes, and how to seek treatment when necessary.
Chronophobia is a marked, ongoing fear of time or the passage of time. It’s not a specific diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Instead, chronophobia may be classified as a specific phobia under the larger umbrella of anxiety disorders.
Someone with chronophobia might feel anxious at milestone events that remind them of the passing of time, such as weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. They may have trouble meeting deadlines at school or work because they avoid checking times or dates. If their fear of time becomes especially extreme, they might even isolate themselves from others completely.
A person with an intense fear of time might also experience derealization. This “out of body” sensation involves a feeling of detachment, a distorted sense of time, and a sense that the things and people around them aren’t “real.”
How Common Are Specific Phobias?
Specific phobias, such as the fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia), or the fear of heights (acrophobia), are more common than you might think. Around 12.5% of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives.
Because chronophobia is an anxiety disorder, many of its symptoms are the same as general symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms might include:
- Panic attack
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Sweaty hands and/or feet
- Rapid heart rate
- Feelings of nervousness, panic, unease, fear
Someone’s fear of time might also cause more specific time-related symptoms, including:
- Disorientation, or a sense that time has sped up or slowed down
- A feeling of dread about the future
- A sense that time is moving too quickly or too slowly
- Avoidance of milestone events that highlight the passage of time
- Avoidance of planning for the future
- Difficulty in making plans or meeting deadlines
- Racing thoughts
- Constant worries about the future
- Fears that it’s “too late” or that their time is quickly coming to an end
If you suspect that you might have chronophobia, a qualified mental health provider will ask you about your time-related anxiety and how it interferes with your daily life. They will likely ask you about any past traumas in your life, the distress you feel when faced with the passage of time, and ways you avoid thinking about the past or future.
To be considered a specific phobia according to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5, your fear of time must meet the following conditions:
- The fear has persisted for at least six months.
- The fear of time interferes with other aspects of daily living, such as social functioning, work, or school.
- Any reminder of time or the passage of time triggers immediate, marked anxiety.
Chronophobia is often linked to other mental health disorders, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is when someone is having a difficult time recovering after experiencing a deeply terrifying event. Your therapist might also evaluate you based on the diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions such as PTSD.
Chronophobia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many medical professionals believe that time anxiety and PTSD are closely linked. One 2014 study indicates that a “sense of foreshortened time” – the idea that someone has no future or that their life won’t follow the typical chronology of developing a career, relationships, and family – is a key symptom of trauma.
While anyone can develop chronophobia, there are certain experiences and environmental factors that put someone more at risk of developing an intense fear of time. These are some of the potential causes of chronophobia:
- Incarceration: People who are incarcerated or otherwise confined to a small space for a lengthy period, especially alone (as in the case of solitary confinement) often develop an intense fear of time. They may lose their sense of time and become increasingly disoriented, claustrophobic, and panicked. This has sometimes been called “prison neurosis.”
- Natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergencies: People who have lived through or who are living through other kinds of extended trauma, such as natural disasters or pandemics that require extended quarantine, may also develop chronophobia. Their sense of time has often been altered by their unusual, extreme, or isolating circumstances.
- Illness or disability: People who have experienced life-altering injuries or who have chronic or terminal illnesses sometimes develop an intense fear of time. In some cases, they might feel that every milestone is a reminder of what they’ve missed out on due to their illness or injury. In others, someone might feel afraid that their time is running out or that they’re wasting precious time.
- Aging: Some older people might experience chronophobia due to their fears of death or a limited future. A fear of time is especially common among people who are living in “closed environments” such as nursing homes, hospitals, or hospice care.
- Other mental health conditions: People with chronophobia often have other mental health conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, or mood disorders such as depression.
Treatment for chronophobia usually involves psychotherapy from a qualified mental health provider. These are the main forms of effective treatment for an intense fear of time:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is the typical preferred treatment for an intense fear of time. CBT can help someone with chronophobia to confront their distorted or negative patterns of thoughts and behavior about time and the passage of time.
- Medication: Drugs such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants might be prescribed to relieve the symptoms of certain phobias. However, psychotherapy is generally the primary treatment.
In addition to mental health treatment, there are several other ways you can work to cope with your intense fear of time. Coping methods for chronophobia could include:
- Relaxation techniques: Anyone with anxiety, panic, or sleep disorders can benefit from using relaxation techniques and tools. These might include deep breathing exercises, white noise machines, or activities like adult coloring books.
- Mindfulness techniques: People with chronophobia might have a hard time living in the moment. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can help you refocus your mind and remember to stay present.
- Planning for the future: Setting realistic goals for the future can help you face your fear of time head-on. Try to make planning a hopeful, fun activity. You can use a vision board, bullet journal, calendar app, or anything else that helps you see the passage of time in a more positive light.
- Support groups: There are many peer support groups, both online and in-person, that can help you feel less alone about your time-related anxiety. Meeting people with similar fears can help you find support and resources.
Chronophobia is an intense, persistent fear of time or the passage of time. According to the DSM-5, this fear is a type of anxiety disorder known as a specific phobia. People with chronophobia experience symptoms of panic and anxiety when faced with reminders of the passage of time. This sometimes leads them to develop avoidance behaviors, such as excluding themselves from social gatherings or milestone events.
Older people, as well as people who have faced traumas, serious terminal illness or natural disasters, or people with other mental health conditions are more at risk of developing chronophobia. Effective treatments include psychotherapy and medication in some cases.
A Word From Verywell
Chronophobia, like other specific phobias, can cause significant distress and even interfere with aspects of your life if left untreated. However, with help from a qualified mental health professional, an intense fear of time is highly treatable.