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Chronophobia is described by Pamela Lee as the fear of time.[1] There are three categories of phobia including agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobias which includes spiders, snakes, dogs, water, and heights.[1] Rosemary Stolz states that chronophobia falls under the category of specific phobia because time is a specific object that one can fear. Somewhere between 5.1% and 12.5% of Americans have experienced some sort of phobia.[2] Chronophobia is especially common in prison inmates and the elderly, but it can manifest in any person who has an extreme amounts of stress and anxiety in their life.[2]


Chronophobia is a Greek word coming from “chronos” meaning time, and “phobos” meaning fear.[1] It is based on chronoperception, the process where time is perceived by the central nervous system.[3]

Causes and contributing factors[edit]

In the book Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s by Pamela Lee, Chronophobia is described as “an experience of unease and anxiety about time, a feeling that events are moving too fast and are thus hard to make sense of.” [4] In Peter PaulAnnas Lichtenstein's review he reveals it can be caused by a traumatic experience in one’s childhood, genetics, incarceration, or old age. Most traumatic experiences can lead to personal withdrawals from one’s surroundings such as dissociation, depersonalization, or derealisation.[3] A person may be genetically affected after the traumatic experience due to Adrenal insufficiency. Those with these insufficiencies are more susceptible to anxiety and fear. When people are incarcerated, they experience a heighten sense of anxiety.[5] The stress of prison makes inmates especially at risk. Inmates start to contemplate time extensively because they are incarcerated for a certain amount of time. It is not uncommon for prison inmates to count-down the days until their release. The elderly also exhibit more of a risk because they feel that death is closer than it had ever been before in their life. The threat of death can cause an overwhelming sensation of chronophobia.[2]

Basic symptoms[edit]

The three main symptoms of chronophobia, and most phobias, are panic, anxiety, and claustrophobia.[5] In some more serious cases, individuals can experience shaking, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, and irregular heartbeats. In the most serious cases individuals can exhibit symptoms of sickening states of mind, inability to articulate words, tunnel vision, and overwhelmingly haunting thoughts.[5]


Mozhi Mani suggests that while no treatment has effectively cured chronophobia, certain methods may ease the individual’s mind. One of these treatments is called hypnotherapy.[6] It is a method that has been considered simple and effective by the American Medical Association since 1958. It involves using hypnosis to open the subconscious mind and change the behavioral patterns of the individual with the phobia.[5]

Arne Ohman and Susan Mineka suggest another treatment that involves Neuro-Linguistic Programming.[7] This method involves the use of psychotherapy to discover how people can create their own reality. A specialist can train a person to “remodel their thoughts and mental associations in order to fix [their] preconceived notions.” [5] Energy (esotericism) can provide treatment for those affected. Such techniques as acupuncture, yoga, t'ai chi ch'uan, pranayama, and energy medicine may prove useful. These practices can cure nausea and may provide some sense of security to those dealing with panic and fear.[5]

There are some medications that can be taken to calm the nerves of those suffering from chronophobia. These prescriptions may cause side effects and do not erase fear but merely suppress symptoms.[5] A person may also wish to see a psychiatrist. Lloyd Williams assures that psychiatrists may be helpful because they serve as a medium for the patient to express their psychological problems, but without their own desire to overcome fear, the patient may not yield the intended results.[8]

The affected[edit]

Two main groups are affected by chronophobia. These groups involve prison inmates and the elderly. Often referred to as Prison Neurosis, chronophobia can affect the incarcerated. Because of the length of time prison inmates spend in their cells, and because of the confined space that they share with others, they can develop psychological symptoms of chronophobia.[2] Some symptoms include delusions, dissatisfaction with life, claustrophobia, depression, and feelings of panic and madness.[2]

The elderly show these symptoms of chronophobia as well. When they feel that their lives are near to the end, they start to fear time because it threatens their existence. This fear is similar to chronoperception because it includes the idea that the speed of brain function depends on the metabolic rate in the hypothalamus. As people get older, their metabolism slows. The elderly may believe that as a result of their slowing metabolism, their brains do not function as well, which makes them more chronophobic.[2]

In literature[edit]

In her work Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, Pamela Lee studies art and technology in the 1960s. Within this period, such artists as Bridget Riley, Carolee Schneemann, Jean Tinguely, Andy Warhol, and On Kawara pique her interest. She “identifies an experience of time common to both [art and technology], and she calls this experience ‘chronophobia’.” After studying Michael Fried’s essay Art and Objecthood, she discovers that as time goes by, art starts to reflect the quickness of time. Within her work, Lee references Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock. She *claims that “the concept of time they espouse is chronophobic as defined in her book, and their popularity means that their concept of time was widely shared.” In her work she fears “perpetual presentness, [that is] time is constant without conclusion.” Many chronophobes feel this way, they fear the fact that time is never ending.[1]

Chronophobic characters are seen in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There. The character Chance Gardiner has no sense of time because he was raised watching television and now defines time in terms of technology. He is described as being in a state of “perpetual nowness.” He has no sense of the past or future, but lives only in the moment. Kosinski explains that the only way for Chance to overcome his chronophobia is if “peace filled his chest.” Kosinski believes that chronophobia “negates the possibility of full human development.”[9]

Thomas Pynchon offers another view of chronophobia in his novel The Crying of Lot 49. The character Oedipa is similar to Chance Gardiner because she lacks dimension, but she is able to distinguish that events have occurred in the past, present or future. Her cure for chronophobia is to create a world where events are scrambled together randomly. Time becomes irrelevant to her.[10]

Perhaps the most recognized literary work dealing with chronophobia lies in the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. This tall-tale introduces a man that has slept for 20 years and wakes to a completely new society. His wife and friends have died, his dog is missing and his gun is rusty. The fact that his entire world has changed, sends him into a feeling of fear and panic. At first he is confused and lost, but his chronophobia is cured when he realizes that although it seems that everything around him has changed, his core beliefs still exist. In this instance, chronophobia is overcome because Rip Van Winkle is able to make new friends, and regain parts of the life he lost while he was asleep.[11]


Chronophobia can never really be prevented because it is normally caused by a traumatic experience that is not within one’s power to stop.[8] Some ways to relieve the stress that chronophobia can cause are to prevent anxiety or situations that could cause anxiety, to avoid getting stressed out about time, to be on time, and to participate in an activity that requires meditation, such as yoga or other forms of mild martial arts.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Lee, Pamela M. (2004). Chronophobia : on time in the art of the 1960s (Reprint. ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-12260-X. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Stolz Hill, Rosemary (2002). Chronophobia: Doing Time. Louisiana: Louisiana State University. 
  3. ^ a b Lichtenstein, Peter PaulAnnas (2000). "Heritablility and Prevalence of Specific Fears and Phobias in Childhood". Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines (Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection): 937. 
  4. ^ Meyers, James (2006). Review of Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of 1960s. Art Bulletin. pp. 781–783. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Mani, Mozhi. "Chronophobia: meanings, treatments, symptoms". Retrieved 26 Nov 2011. 
  6. ^ Cooney, k (June 1994). "Hypnotherapy". The British Journal of General Practices 44: 183. 
  7. ^ Ohman, Arne; Mineka (2001). "Susan". Psychological Review (3): 483–522. 
  8. ^ a b Williams, Lloyd; Grace Dooseman, Erin Kleifield (1984). "Comparative Effectiveness of Guided Master and Exposure Treatments for Intractable Phobias". Consulting and Clinical Psychology 52 (4): 505–518. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.52.4.505. PMID 6147365. 
  9. ^ Kosinski, Jerzy (1972). Being there (Bantam ed.). Toronto: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-23246-0. 
  10. ^ Eklund, Matthew (2001). Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. Explicator. p. 216. 
  11. ^ Pierce, Colin D. (1993). Changing Regimes: The Case of Rip Van Winkle. Clio. p. 115.