Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words. Understanding the phobia can help you overcome it and live a fulfilling life.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is one of the longest words in the dictionary, and ironically, it means the fear of long words. It originally was referred to as Sesquipedalophobia but was changed at some point to sound more intimidating.

Some people believe this phobia is irrational, but those who experience it understand it is substantial. Your mind can develop phobias toward anything, even if you know the fear isn’t rational.

Many people don’t seek professional help for their phobia and work to avoid it. However, understanding Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia can help you address the phobia and overcome some of the negative feelings associated with it.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia isn’t officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Instead, a person’s symptoms could be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder or social phobia because of the way this phobia tends to impact social and occupational functioning.

For instance, fear of long words can cause a person to avoid events and groups of people. This fear can also lead to panic attacks, potentially leading to a panic disorder diagnosis.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) requires that symptoms show for at least six months before diagnosing the condition. The criteria include fear or anxiety of being around other people. It also involves fear or worry that:

  • doesn’t fit the situation
  • is a persistent concern
  • causes excessive avoidance
  • contributes to clinical distress

Children experiencing hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia might feel fear at school when they know they’ll have to read. It can interfere with their grades and friendships and trigger embarrassment. Experts indicate this phobia can follow them through life, continuing to disrupt their adulthood.

Adults experiencing hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia may experience limited career options to avoid reading and writing long words. Coming across a long word during a presentation or meeting can trigger panic attacks.

Fear of long words can cause a lack of self-esteem, depression, and avoidance. If someone believes they can’t sufficiently avoid long words, they might isolate themselves from others.

You may understand that long words can’t physically hurt you and still experience fear. As a result, you may experience symptoms of anxiety attacks.

These symptoms include:

  • trouble breathing
  • crying
  • avoiding reading
  • trembling
  • dizziness
  • running away
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • headache
  • muscle tension
  • accelerated heartbeat
  • fainting
  • nausea

The causes of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia aren’t fully understood, but they seem to involve risk factors of specific phobias. They may include:

  • Past trauma: If someone had trouble learning words as a child, it could contribute to harmful feelings later. Being laughed at or mocked for misreading something can cause trauma and lead to feel of long words.
  • Brain function: Changes in brain functioning can increase your risk of developing a phobia.
  • Learned behavior: Your environment can trigger this phobia. It can happen if you’ve heard or witnessed negative experiences related to the fear.
  • Genetics: A family history of phobias, anxiety or other mental health conditions may increase your risk.
  • Learning disabilities: Dyslexia and other learning disabilities can contribute to this phobia.

You can learn techniques to help you cope with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and live a fulfilling life. Some of the treatment options help with anxiety disorders and include:

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy can be an effective treatment option for phobias. It involves desensitization and helps you change your response to the situation, overcoming or easing your anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can help manage the symptoms associated with a phobia. It can help you learn coping skills for anxiety and ways to rewire negative thinking patterns.

Replace long words

Rather than avoiding long words, practice replacing them instead. When you see one, you can teach yourself to process a shorter meaning and use that instead.

Attend a support group

Attending support groups can help you connect with others dealing with phobias. Discussing it with people who understand can help you develop coping mechanisms.

Self-help methods

Some of the other treatment options for this phobia include:

If you think you or someone you know lives with hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, you may want to speak with a mental health professional about next steps. A professional can help you determine the best treatment option for you.

While this specific phobia may feel overwhelming or even cause shame, try to remember that you are not alone and there are ways to overcome fear or long words. Learning all you can about this phobia can help you make a proactive plan to ease its effect on your life.

Once you find the treatment option for you, you may find relief in your anxiety symptoms and learn to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Even after treatment, you may still have lingering anxiety, but the anxiety will likely feel more manageable and less intrusive to your daily functioning.

How to Find a Therapist

Looking for a therapist but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.

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