Do you or someone you know have Mycophobia? The word means “fear of mushrooms,” and it has been attracting more attention lately, so perhaps you are reading this article because you are wondering. Of course, we can’t diagnose or treat psychological problems here, we just really like fungi, but we can explore the topic with you…. And it turns out it can be a little confusing because “mycophobia” can mean two very different things.
Mycophobia—When Mushrooms Are Terrifying
A phobia is a mental disorder characterized by irrational and debilitating fear of something specific[i]. It’s not that the object of the phobia can’t really be dangerous, it’s that the fear is disproportionate. For example, many people are injured or killed in falls, so being afraid of falling makes sense—but a person with a phobia of falling might feel fear when falling is actually impossible, such as when sitting on the ground twenty feet back from the edge of a cliff.
People with phobias generally know their fear is irrational but can’t make the fear go away. The fear can be severe and include anxiety attacks or panic. The intensity of a phobia can vary over time.
It’s not known what causes phobias, although a genetic predisposition may be involved—that is, your genes might make you more or less likely to develop a phobia. In some cases, a scary event could trigger the development of a phobia. For example, someone who almost drowns could afterwards be afraid of swimming. But not everyone who has a deeply scary experience develops a phobia, and some phobias have no known initial trigger.
Many people who have phobias never seek treatment, either because the phobia is mild or because avoiding the object of fear is easy. Intense fear of something the person can’t avoid or doesn’t want to avoid can be debilitating, though.
Mycophobia in this sense is probably quite real, but we haven’t been able to track down any information on how common it is, nor have we found first-person accounts by people who have the problem. If you have mycophobia, or any other phobia, and it is negatively impacting the quality of your life, please talk to a qualified mental health-care provider.
How To Treat Mycophobia
Fortunately, phobias are treatable[ii]. Therapists may offer one or more of the following treatment options, usually as part of a coordinated cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) approach:
Desensitization means exposing the patient to the object of fear in small, manageable “doses.” For example, someone phobic about mushrooms might be shown a picture of a mushroom. Eventually, the patient works up to being able to handle real mushrooms. The tricky thing is to get the “dose size” right. If the exposure to the scary thing is too minor, it won’t challenge the patient, and nothing will change. If the exposure is too significant, it could trigger a panic episode and escalate the phobia. The skill and good judgment of the therapist are critical for the method to work.
That being said, sometimes someone with a phobia can successfully desensitize themselves, at least partially (one of us did it, and no, the phobia had nothing to do with mushrooms).
While prescription drugs aren’t normally used alone to treat phobias, they are sometimes used to assist other treatments. Most commonly, these are anti-depressant/anti-anxiety meds, though tranquilizers and even beta blockers may also be used. These drugs can only be prescribed by a medical doctor (psychiatrists are doctors, psychologists are not) and have to be very carefully monitored, as they can cause serious side-effects and sometimes actually make the problem worse.
There are various techniques for managing anxiety that can help someone with a phobia. These include physical exercise, certain forms of meditation, and breathing exercises (please note that some people are physically unable to self-calm by slowing the breath. If that’s you, just try something else). The idea is to reduce anxiety overall, and hopefully the phobia will ease along with it. Again, this is an approach that doesn’t necessarily require a therapist, but a therapist can provide guidance.
Please note that neither physical exercise, nor meditation, nor any of the other techniques are entirely without risk. Please do your due diligence before trying something new.
Please note these symptoms can mean a variety of other different things but if you feel any of these when in the presence of mushrooms (being physically near them or even thinking about them) you may have Mycophobia.
- Symptoms of an impending threat or sense of doom
- Elevated heart rate
- Accelerated breathing rate
- Muscular tension Tremors
- Excessive perspiration
- Difficulty breathing
- Sensation of suffocation
- Discomfort or pain in the chest area
- Nausea or abdominal unease
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Anxiety about losing control
- Pins and needles sensation
- Chills or hot flushes
Mycophobia—When Mushrooms Are Icky
The other way the word “mycophobia” is used is to refer to a generally anti-mushroom attitude. Basically, it’s a fancy way of saying “doesn’t like mushrooms.” This sort of mycophobia is in no way a psychological disorder. It does go a bit farther than simply not liking the taste, though.
Mycophobia in this sense is simply part of a broader phenomenon whereby the definition of “food” is culturally determined. For example, Americans, by and large, don’t eat insects, regarding them as inherently gross, not worth even trying, and just generally not food. People in some other cultures disagree and eat insects quite happily. Cultures that define mushrooms as not-food are considered mycophobic[iii]. It’s not all or nothing, though—the United States is largely on the mycophobic side of things, and yet many Americans do eat and enjoy mushrooms. But many do not. Few grow up hunting mushrooms as a family, most American grocery stores stock only small quantities of a single species of mushroom, and many people seem half-convinced that all mushrooms are deadly poison until proven otherwise.
Note that caution with respect to mushrooms is a good idea as some are dangerous, but the vast majority are harmless. Even most poisonous mushrooms cause only mild illness. And while foraging alone is no job for a beginner, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to develop the necessary expertise.
Mycophobia in this sense is not a disorder and requires no treatment, but it is good to know that cultures vary in this way. And if you yourself come from a mycophobic culture but enjoy mushrooms, it’s worth remembering that some anti-mushroom sentiment may hide in your psyche. Learn as much as you can from reliable sources, and you’ll learn which precautions are reasonable and which are really unnecessary.
[iii] Peintner, U., Schwarz, S., Mešić, A., Moreau, P., Moreno, G., Saviuc, P. (2013). Micophilic or Mycophobic? Legislation and Guidelines on Wild Mushroom Commerce Reveal Different Consumption Behavior in European Countries. PLOS One