Frigophobia (Fear of Cold)

Was this helpful?
4

What is frigophobia?

Frigophobia translates as fear of cold. It comes from the Latin word for cold, frigus, and the Greek word for fear, phobia. It applies to cold temperatures, but also to things with a cold nature, such as cold food.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. They are irrational, persistent and overpowering fear of an environment, situations, activity, person, animal or object. The fear is out of proportion with reality because the trigger presents little or no real danger. In most cases, people with phobias recognize this mismatch between reality and their reaction. However, people with frigophobia most often do not.

Frigophobia is a simple phobia, meaning it has a specific focus. Specific phobias is another name for simple phobias. They are the most common kind of phobia. In the United States, it’s likely that up to 9% of the population has a simple phobia. However, frigophobia is virtually nonexistent in this country. While still rare in other countries, it seems to be a culturally-related phobia in Chinese populations in Asia.

Frigophobia causes an unreasonable fear of cold. In Chinese cultures, the fear is linked to the concept of yin and yang. People who develop frigophobia ultimately fear a loss of vitality and even life if cold elements become unbalanced. As such, they avoid things of a cold nature, like wind and cold food. They try to keep cold in balance by wearing excessive amounts of clothing and seek the heat of the day. Because these thoughts are based in cultural ideas, people with frigophobia do not usually recognize their phobia.

What are the symptoms of frigophobia?

Simple phobias cause both physical and psychological symptoms. The physical, or somatic, symptoms are the result of real changes in the body. When you sense danger or fear, the body reacts to the stress by releasing hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline is the fuel behind the fight-or-flight response.

Common physical frigophobia symptoms include:

  • Abdominal upset or pain

The body’s physical response to fear and anxiety can make frigophobia worse. Adrenaline stimulates blood vessel constriction. This can cause coolness in the extremities, reinforcing the fear.

Common psychological frigophobia symptoms include:

  • Dread, worry, or sense of impending doom at being cold, having cold extremities, or losing vitality due to cold
  • Intense panic or fear about cold
  • Lack of control over the fear of cold
  • Strong desire to avoid cold and things of a cold nature and to keep cold in balance by seeking ways to stay warm

People with frigophobia most often seek treatment when the fear becomes so intense, they believe death is imminent.

What are the causes of frigophobia?

In general, mental health is an interplay of environmental and genetic factors. Some people may be more prone to phobias and other anxiety disorders because of their genetics. Some people can also link their fears to specific past experiences. With frigophobia, researchers have found that most sufferers display learned or acquired behaviors. They either knew someone with frigophobia or heard about it from others, usually elders. This learned fear of cold tends to be more prominent in rural villages compared to urban centers.

What are the treatments for frigophobia?

People with frigophobia often try to manage their fears through rituals and other cultural practices. They don’t seek Western medical treatment until they think they are going to die. In Western medicine, the most effective frigophobia treatments are forms of talk therapy including:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This method helps people understand that their fear is rooted in cultural beliefs, not scientific facts. The goal is for them to understand that they are not in physical danger from things of a cold nature. The therapist also helps them see that feeling coolness in the body is not necessarily a sign of approaching death. Therapists use CBT in combination with exposure therapy for the best results.
  • Exposure therapy or desensitization therapy. This method uses gradual and repeated exposures to confront the fear of cold. It may start with just visualizing or imagining coldness. The therapist helps people use anxiety-reducing techniques to control their reaction to the exposure. The goal is for people to understand the mind-body connection and use it to manage their fear.

Doctors may use medications on a short-term basis to manage anxiety in frigophobia. People are often at a breaking point when they seek Western medical care. Medicines can help them calm down enough for talk therapy to be effective. In the long run, talk therapy is the most successful treatment for frigophobia.

In general, simple phobias can lead to complications. This includes depression, other anxiety disorders, and even suicidal thoughts. Social isolation and substance abuse are also possible problems that develop from simple phobias.

Was this helpful?
4
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Fears and Phobias. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/phobias.html
  2. Ng BY. Wei han zheng (frigophobia): a culture-related psychiatric syndrome. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1998;32(4):582-585.
  3. Perera DN, Panduwawela S, Perera MH. Frigophobia: a case series from Sri Lanka. Transcult Psychiatry. 2014;51(2):176-189.
  4. Phobia. Harvard University. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/phobia-a-to-z
  5. Phobias. Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/phobias
  6. Phobias. Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/phobias
  7. Phobias. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/anxiety-disorders/phobias
  8. Phobias. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/phobias.html
  9. Specific Phobias. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/symptoms-causes/syc-20355156
  10. What Are Anxiety Disorders? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders