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Heidi’s Experience with Aichmophobia

by Minny Pittman


Imagine not being able to enter the warmth of a kitchen or experience the creative energy of your mother’s sewing room because you fear what lies within. Now, imagine that same fear preventing you from seeking medical care or getting your hair cut. Slicing a pie becomes a nightmare. Knives and scissors haunt your dreams. This is what many encounter who grapple with aichmophobia, the fear of sharp or pointy objects.

As someone who struggles with aichmophobia, Heidi Johnson knows firsthand how this phobia can impact everyday life. She’s lived with it since she was three years old.

“I can recall the day it all started,” Heidi said. “It was a sunny, summer afternoon. My family had gone to a park with a playground and a small, man-made lake.” She still recalls intricate details about the park, the lake, even the concrete walkway she was standing on when it happened.

“I stood on the walkway watching others cast fishing lines. I recall a man reaching back to cast. My hands were clasped together in front of me. I could see the line coming at me. I could see the hook and sinker.”

Heidi was too young to realize it, but what was about to happen would have a long-lasting, negative effect on her mental health.

I felt a sharp sting. My thumb had been hooked. I think I was in shock, because I just stood there staring at this large, sharp object jutting out of my thumb. The fuzzy sinker dangled alongside.”

That brief instant in time became the onset of Heidi’s aichmophobia, which manifested as a fear of knives and needles, particularly hypodermic needles. Her symptoms were minor in the early years. But her fear reared its head ten years later while sitting in the dentist’s chair with her first cavity.

“I was petrified.” she said. “Pure fear. I was surprised at my reaction, not knowing why it was so strong.”

Her fear of dentists continued throughout her life. As an adult, the fear became so acute that her dental care grew unmanageable.

“When I was forty years old, a dentist told me I needed to have a tooth pulled. I had no idea I would have a full blown panic attack sitting in that chair. I had tears streaming down my face. I was beyond embarrassed.”

Heidi wouldn’t permit the tooth extraction. As a matter of fact, she ceased dental care altogether for a number of years.

“It never occurred to me until that panic episode at the dentist that I have aichmophobia, this incredible fear of sharp objects,” she said.

After that incident, Heidi began to do some soul searching. She researched her phobia and learned that when you have a debilitating fear such as she does with sharp or pointy objects—or with any phobia really—it most always stems from something that happened in your past.

“It doesn’t just come out of the blue,” she said. “There’s some sort of trauma that happened in order for that to be present in your mind.”

Worried about her dental health, she began tracing back in her memory what may have occurred in her past that brought on this fear of sharp objects.

“And there it was!” she said. “Front and center. The fishing accident.”

The discovery brought relief and understanding, but it didn’t resolve her fear. She continued to avoid dentists until a recent dental crisis brought her back to the chair.

“When I saw my dentist, I made sure to be totally open with him and his assistant. I explained exactly how I felt, something I hadn’t done before.”

Heidi is thankful her dental care team was kind and professional about it. Her dentist empathized with her and helped her feel more at ease. She was able to have a cavity filled that same day and make plans for future, more involved dental care.

“My dentist realized my phobia was something to be taken seriously,” she said. “He recognized that it was affecting me both mentally and physically in a negative way.”

Since her more positive experience with her last dental visit, Heidi is feeling stronger and more able to lead a normal life.

“I feel like I have more control over it, rather than it controlling me,” she said.

Heidi encourages others who struggle with phobia to be gentle on themselves. “It doesn’t mean you’re weak-minded, childish, or over-exaggerating,” she said. “It’s real. It affects you.”

If you’re struggling with a fear of sharp or pointy objects, or any phobia which negatively impacts your life, research may help you get to the root of your fear. Reach out to a phobia group or talk to a therapist, friend, or family member about it.

“I don’t see my fear ever going away,” Heidi said. “But I do now see myself in the driver’s seat where this phobia is concerned.”






Minny Pittman is a freelance writer and editor for



Your Fear Goes Up and Down

Are you someone who would rather climb the stairs than take the elevator? You call it squeezing in a workout after being sedentary the whole morning. Or perhaps you claim it's a faster route. These are both typical, normal, and acceptable reasons. But what if you need to be in the conference room on the eleventh floor in five minutes, and you're wearing your business suit and wingtips? Would you still prefer to take the stairs? If your answer is yes, then maybe it's time to take a closer look at your reasons for avoiding elevators. Elevators stir all sorts of emotions in passengers. From the discomfort of closeness to strangers to the sensations in our gut, elevators can be a source of the heebie-jeebies for many, but for some, they can also be a source of terror. Let's dig a little deeper into the latter, and see what this terror is all about and what can be done to manage it. To begin with, does being inside an elevator give you chills or the sweats? Or does it trigger an unpleasant memory? Perhaps you remember movies you've watched where something terrible happens inside an elevator. From Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, Final Destination 2, or the king of all elevator horror films, 2010’s Devil, the elevator becomes witness to something sinister and horrible. And you want nothing to do with any of it. You know that you're not claustrophobic. You can deal with heights just fine, too. And you know that you're not going to be trapped inside. All of these contribute to a fear of elevators—but they don't apply to you. Yet being inside one does something to you. It's hard to explain.

What is the Fear of Elevators Called?

What you have is a fear of elevators, which is called elevatophobia. It is most commonly triggered by an experience of getting stuck inside either due to a power outage or technical maintenance. Hearing about other people's experiences or watching a movie about similar circumstances can prompt a fear of elevators getting stuck with you inside. Usually, claustrophobics and agoraphobics may also develop elevatophobia because the triggers and objects of these fears are related. Claustrophobia is the fear of closed and cramped spaces, while agoraphobia is the fear of being trapped without any means of escape. Put the two together, and the elevator becomes the perfect combination of both phobias. The space is limited and closed, with only one means of entry and exit. You can add another point of access if you consider climbing the cables like they do in the movies, but that certainly isn't ideal.

Symptoms of Elevatophobia

If for some reason an elevator stops due to an outage or some technical difficulty, passengers with elevatophobia may go into full panic mode. Even if the maintenance team advises that it will just be a matter of minutes, by then, the person's mind has become irrational with the fear of the elevator falling, being stuck for hours, or other unpleasant thoughts. You would expect a person to exhibit the following physical symptoms: Additionally, you would be filled with that overwhelming anxiety where you feel that you have zero control over the situation. You start fearing the unknown and are filled with negative thoughts about death and imminent doom. You become irrational and unresponsive.

Possible Complications of Elevatophobia

When the panic sets in, the possibility of emergencies related to pre-existing conditions may make themselves known. This might include serious health crises like heart attacks or asthma attacks. When this happens, fear becomes a medical emergency. Elevator rides do not last long; it's just a matter of minutes or even less. But the fact that a person can escalate from panic to a near fatal medical situation classifies the fear of elevators as a 'hard phobia.'

Trying Some Self-Help Methods

Your fear of elevators can likely interfere with your social and work life and relationships. Not everyone understands that elevatophobia, like most phobias, can be crippling. But don't be disheartened. Depending on the level of your fear and level of control, you can gradually face and manage your phobia. Here are some recommendations you can try:
  1. Make a List of Everything that Entails Riding in an Elevator This is a systematic approach to getting over your anxiety. By following a step-by-step process, you can identify where the fear kicks in at its strongest. You can write a list of steps like pressing the topmost button and waiting to arrive on that floor, watching as the door closes and opens, being alone inside the elevator, or having delays with the doors opening. Now try doing the opposite. For example, face away from the door or occupy yourself with your phone so that you are distracted.
  2. Create Your Fear Ladder Although the name says fear of elevators, it is not the whole process that scares you. There are just phases and parts of the elevator riding experience that cause you to panic. So go back to the list you initially created and label the fear level you feel. You can do it numerically, too, like ten being 'really scary,' six, 'manageable scary,' and one, 'not scary at all.' You can put the corresponding fear levels so you can focus more time and effort into activities that are more scary to you.
  3. Face Your Fear By now, you have identified what scares you the most. You can try repetitive action to minimize your fear and increase your sense of ‘normalcy’. Remember that the longer you expose yourself to your fear, the better you get at handling your emotions. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stop. Pushing yourself too fast and too soon can backfire. Modify your pace and go slower instead.
  4. Talk About Your Fear People by nature, unfortunately, are not quick to offer understanding and support. You need to tell them what's wrong before they can empathize. Talk to someone who you trust and ask for their support, especially in the initial phase of overcoming your fear. If you are too afraid to ride the elevator alone, you can ask them to go with you, and before you realize it, you are on your floor, and there was no indication of panic.
  5. Learn To Be Patient Be patient with yourself and your predicament. This is, after all, your fight against fear. It might take hundreds of elevator ride practices before the fear gets under control. Even then, there might be some hesitations and episodes of nervousness. These are acceptable and expected, so cut yourself some slack and congratulate yourself for every progress.

Seeking Professional Help

Along with self-help, you can always enlist a medical professional's aid to support you with your elevatophobia. Talking to someone who has experience with similar cases can be comforting, because you know that you are not alone, and this situation can get better. Talk to your doctor about the severity of your fears and the symptoms that you experience. Explain how you deal with it in an attempt to control it. An exam and a health history are made to ensure that there are no unrelated or underlying problems that your symptoms might mask. Usually, phobias like this are approached with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Your doctor will talk about these options with you, and it's entirely up to you, with your doctor's recommendation, what you want to pursue. For psychotherapy, the most common type is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to help you find different ways of behaving, thinking, and reacting when about to step inside an elevator or when already inside it. With medications, there are beta blockers and benzodiazepines, but note that these can have side effects. Whatever these side effects are, you should promptly share it with your doctor.

Simple Tips to Overcome Elevatophobia

Elevators are not perfect, but their likelihood to malfunction, fall, or get stuck is very low. If you are not fully confident with this information, you can help overcome your elevatophobia by learning common elevator safety tips and basic elevator operations. These should help curb your mild fear until you become more self-assured. In addition to that, here are some of the things that you can do to gradually overcome your fear of elevators—both in getting on and riding one.


Yes, elevatophobia can be a challenge in today's world, but don't allow the elevator to win. Don't let it stop you from taking a job on the top floor or attending a social gathering on the rooftop. Sure, you can take the stairs if you insist and arrive winded and sweaty, with the party about to wrap up. But is this the quality of life you seek? Elevators are designed to make life easier. There are guaranteed ways to help you overcome elevatophobia. Take the first step and seek help. Soon, you’ll see yourself breezing through the floors with those arduous stair climbs little more than a memory.
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