Phasmophobia is a persistent and intense fear or anxiety related to ghosts or the supernatural.

While it’s common for children to fear ghosts, most outgrow it naturally. But when this fear lingers into adulthood, it’s called phasmophobia and can persist for decades, significantly impacting daily life.

Let’s explore phasmophobia, understand its causes and effects, and discover practical ways to manage this often debilitating fear.

Phasmophobia refers to an intense fear or anxiety related to ghosts or supernatural entities.

It isn’t specifically listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

But if the fear of ghosts or supernatural occurrences causes significant distress, leads to avoidance behaviors, and disrupts daily life, it could potentially be classified as a specific phobia falling under the category of “other specific fears” within the DSM-5-TR.

Individuals experiencing phasmophobia might feel extreme distress or anxiety when faced with the idea of encountering or being near ghosts or supernatural occurrences.

Symptoms of phobia of ghosts or the supernatural may include:

  • Intense anxiety: When sleeping alone at night or in situations associated with the supernatural, individuals experience heightened anxiety.
  • Disturbing visions: The phobic episodes often involve vivid visions of ghosts or haunted places.
  • Perception of presence: There’s a profound sensation or belief in the presence of an intangible entity, not perceptible by regular senses, in their surroundings.
  • Long-standing fears: These fears typically start in childhood and persist into adolescence and adulthood.
  • Avoidance behaviors: Individuals may actively avoid situations or places associated with ghosts or supernatural occurrences to minimize anxiety.
  • Reduced quality of sleep: Individuals with phasmophobia often associate darkness with a potential ghostly encounter. They might experience heightened anxiety when the lights are off, leading to disrupted sleep patterns, insomnia, or difficulty relaxing enough to fall asleep.
  • Distorted thoughts: In phasmophobia, individuals often harbor distorted thoughts or exaggerated fears, such as interpreting any unexplained sound as evidence of a ghost’s presence or believing that ghosts are universally malevolent and pose immediate danger.
  • Comorbidity with other phobias: Often, this fear coexists with other phobias, contributing to a more complex pattern of anxiety-related symptoms.
  • Reluctance to discuss: Due to feelings of shame or self-consciousness, individuals might avoid discussing these fears with healthcare professionals.

In a study involving six individuals living with phasmophobia, participants revealed that when sleeping alone, they frequently experienced overwhelming visions of ghosts and eerie settings.

Accompanying this was a deep-seated feeling of an imperceptible entity lingering in their midst.

Hearing words associated with death or the afterlife, like ‘burial,’ ‘graveyard,’ or ‘satanic cult,’ would trigger intense anxiety often leading to disturbed sleep that night. Nighttime silence seemed to intensify their unease, with every noise adding to their fear.

These fears, often rooted in childhood, persisted through adolescence and into adulthood, often intertwining with other phobias.

Phasmophobia can arise from various factors, and individual experiences and beliefs often contribute to this fear. Here’s an exploration of potential causes:

  • Cultural and religious beliefs: Upbringing in cultures or religions that emphasize the existence or malevolence of ghosts can contribute to the fear. Stories, traditions, or teachings about spirits or the afterlife might instill a deep-seated fear of encountering ghosts.
  • Personal experiences or trauma: Direct encounters or witnessing unexplained events, especially in places believed to be haunted, can deeply impact individuals. Traumatic experiences related to perceived ghosts or supernatural occurrences can heighten fear.
  • Other phobias: Having pre-existing phobias, such as fear of the dark (nyctophobia) or anxiety disorders, might exacerbate the fear of ghosts. These fears can intertwine or reinforce each other, intensifying overall anxiety levels.
  • Media influence: Watching movies, reading books, or consuming media portraying ghosts or supernatural entities as menacing can contribute to the development of phasmophobia.
  • Anxiety about the unknown: Fear of ghosts can stem from a general fear of the unknown or unexplainable. Ghosts are associated with mysteries beyond scientific understanding, triggering anxiety in some individuals.

Research from 2020 suggests that specific phobias, affecting 3%-15% of people worldwide, usually start in childhood and peak in midlife and later years.

For 10%-30% of individuals, these fears persist for many years, even decades, and strongly predict the development of other anxiety, mood, or substance-related issues.

Phasmophobia, like other specific phobias, can be treated through various approaches.

Treatment options for phasmophobia may include:

Exposure therapy

The preferred treatment for specific phobias involves gradually exposing individuals to feared situations or stimuli related to ghosts or the supernatural.

Exposure therapy can be done in real-life settings (in-vivo exposure) or through virtual reality. While one session of intensive exposure therapy can be effective, multiple sessions may yield better long-term results.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to phasmophobia. It often includes exposure techniques but also focuses on altering thought processes contributing to fear.


While not commonly used as the primary treatment, studies on specific phobias have explored the use of medications, such as D-cycloserine or glucocorticoids, in combination with exposure therapy.

These medications may make exposure therapy more effective.

Here are some self-help tips that might assist in managing phasmophobia:

  • Education and understanding: Learning more about ghosts and supernatural phenomena through reliable sources might demystify fears and reduce anxiety.
  • Gradual exposure: Gradually confronting fears by exposing oneself to mildly uncomfortable situations related to ghosts or supernatural themes might help desensitize over time. For instance, consider watching a cartoon featuring a friendly ghost and work up from there.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation methods such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation can help manage anxiety when confronted with fearful thoughts.
  • Mindfulness and distraction: Engaging in activities that require focus or mindfulness, like hobbies or physical exercise, can distract from fearful thoughts.
  • Set realistic goals: Setting small, achievable goals to face fears gradually can provide a sense of accomplishment and build confidence. For instance, consider spending 5 minutes reading or watching something lighthearted about ghosts or the supernatural to desensitize yourself gradually.

Phasmophobia, like any phobia, can be challenging, but it’s possible to overcome. Start by educating yourself about the fear, take small steps to confront it, and consider seeking support from loved ones or professionals.

Remember, gradual exposure and positive self-talk can make a significant difference. Be patient with yourself throughout the process, and celebrate every step forward, no matter how small.