Fear of mail

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Please help. Where to start? My #1 problem right now is I seem to have a huge,massive, paralyzing fear of the mail & bills. It doesn’t make sense, I have the money for the bills, I’m terrified to open the box, read the bill & pay it! It’s causing me lots of financial difficulties. I’ve talked about it to psychologists before & they seem to be interested in talking about my other problems. One told me to get a boyfriend. A lot of people tell me that. I’m sort of introverted & a bit anti-social. Sometimes & just don’t want to bother with any one. Sometimes I just feel awkward.I’ve Been Diagnosed with Depression. I am currently taking Prozac. I think my fears are becoming real liabilities & I feel isolated from the world, Maybe I can’t be helped, which is depressing. I get dejected because I don’t think I can really talk to anyone about this stuff anymore, but I really want help. What the heck is wrong with me & what can I do?

A: Anthrax, letter bombs, certified mail from lawyers, time-wasting junk mail, important mail for someone that you have to deal with, rejection letters, mudslinging from political candidates, sales on things we still can’t afford, and returned mail for insufficient postage are just part of what is in our psyche about snail mail. But I noticed that you did e-mail us here, which I am very encouraged by, because it means not all forms of mail are troublesome. This is a good sign.

It is hard to know if something specific (a negative piece of mail you specifically received) or something more generic is operating. But it is best to approach this fear as a situation-specific condition. This will give us a way of trying to solve it directly. If that doesn’t work we can go on to something more involved.

I would limit the times you go to the mailbox to twice a week, like a Tuesday or Saturday, and ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you when you pick it up. By having two means of control — when you go and going with another person — it changes the buildup of anxiety about the situation.

Secondly, I would bring a garbage bag with you and as you take mail out of the mailbox throw out the junk mail instantly. This rapid decision-making process also gives you control and helps limit your contact.

Finally, I would sort what is left into “know mail” (like bills) that you know have to be paid and other mail that is important.

With your trusted friend or family member present open the important mail. This provides you with a safety net of another person who can be there if the information you receive is unpleasant. This should also strengthen your bond with the person as it gives you a chance to express your gratitude.

Do this for the next month to break the cycle and see if your fears diminish. If so, experiment with “fading” your helper by having them wait for you while you retrieve the mail. All of these things are ways of helping to desensitize you to the dreaded deed.

If this doesn’t help the fear may be more involved. In this case you should find a therapist (the find help tab at the top of the page will help you locate one in your area.) He or she will certainly help you get to the bottom of it. In therapy we try the easiest solution first. If that doesn’t do it we look for other possible causes and experiment from there.

You asking for help from us was a strong, positive step in the right direction.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jul 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Fear of mail. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/29/fear-of-mail/