Chionophobia (Fear of Snow)

Overview

What is chionophobia?

Chionophobia is an intense fear of snow. People with chionophobia have an extreme reaction to snow or wintry weather. Even the thought of a light snowfall can cause severe anxiety. The word chionophobia comes from the Greek word for snow (chióni).

This phobia can have a significant impact on everyday life. People with this disorder may choose to move to a warm climate, or they may avoid traveling to colder areas. If they live in an area where snow is common, they may avoid leaving the house during winter. Chionophobia can damage relationships and cause financial problems if the person is unable to go to work.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. Phobias cause people to have an extreme reaction to, or unusual fear of, something that isn’t actually dangerous. They may have severe anxiety or panic attacks when they’re in a situation that triggers the phobia.

Chionophobia is a specific phobia disorder. There are many types of these disorders. They cause unrealistic fear, anxiety and extreme reactions to certain objects or situations. People with specific phobias avoid the situations or things that cause them fear.

How common is chionophobia?

It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like chionophobia (fear of snow). Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though.

Chionophobia is a natural-environment phobia. Environmental phobias are common. They also include lilapsophobia (fear of tornadoes and hurricanes) and nyctophobia (fear of the dark).

Symptoms and Causes

Who is at risk of chionophobia?

People who have mental illness or other types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), are more likely to develop phobias. You have an increased risk of a phobia if you have:

What causes chionophobia?

Healthcare providers haven’t identified the exact cause of chionophobia. But they believe it results from a combination of genetics, environmental factors and a person’s history.

People with this disorder may have had a negative or traumatic experience with snow in the past. They may have been stuck in a blizzard when they were young or lost a loved one in a snowy car accident. A snow-related traumatic event can trigger chionophobia in people who are already at an increased risk of an anxiety disorder. These scary events can cause the disorder to develop, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the symptoms of chionophobia?

Children and adults with a fear of snow have extreme anxiety when:

  • Hearing a weather report with snow in the forecast.
  • Seeing snow (either in person or in a movie or a photograph).
  • Thinking about snow.

They may lose sleep over predicted wintry weather. They may also become obsessed with stockpiling groceries before the first snowflake falls. Sometimes, these people make major life decisions to avoid snow. They may even move to warmer climates where wintry weather is rare.

Anxiety from chionophobia can cause:

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose chionophobia?

Healthcare providers diagnose chionophobia and other specific anxiety disorders with a mental health evaluation. Your healthcare provider may recommend seeing a mental health professional like a psychologist for a more complete evaluation. You might have chionophobia if you have:

  • Extreme anxiety when thinking about, talking about or seeing snow.
  • Panic attacks or anxiety that lasts for at least six months.
  • Severe worries, concerns or the inability to leave the house (agoraphobia) if it’s cold or snow is in the forecast.
  • Symptoms that have a significant impact on relationships or quality of life.

Management and Treatment

How do I manage or treat chionophobia?

There isn’t a set treatment plan for chionophobia. But some types of therapy can help people with chionophobia and other specific phobias. These therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help you think about your fears in a different way and gain more control over how you respond to them.
  • Exposure therapy, to gradually increase your contact with snow (or pictures of snow) and decrease your sensitivity to it.
  • Hypnotherapy, to decrease fears through guided relaxation and intense concentration. This happens while your mind is in a hypnotic (relaxed and responsive) state.
  • Psychotherapy, to help you talk through your fears, understand them better and develop ways to cope.
  • Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider may also recommend medications. Anti-anxiety medications can help you manage panic attacks. But they don’t treat the phobia itself. If you have another mental health disorder, such as depression, your healthcare provider may recommend medications.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend breathing and relaxation exercises to help you stay calm. You can try yoga, meditation and mindfulness techniques to relieve anxiety.

What are the complications of chionophobia?

Untreated, chionophobia can disrupt everyday activities and affect your quality of life. Extreme anxiety and panic attacks can cause serious physical symptoms and emotional problems.

Some people with chionophobia go to great lengths to avoid snow. People who live in cold climates may stay indoors for several weeks or months because they worry it might snow. They may lose friends, struggle with family or partners, and have a difficult time keeping a job. People with severe chionophobia may choose to move away from their support network to a place where it rarely snows.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have chionophobia?

With treatment, many people manage chionophobia symptoms. You may need long-term therapy to treat this phobia, especially if you live in an area where wintry weather is common.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about chionophobia?

Call your healthcare provider if you (or your child) have fear or anxiety when looking at or thinking about snow, especially if the anxiety doesn’t go away. Make an appointment for an evaluation if your anxiety gets in the way of your everyday activities, or if you have trouble sleeping. Get help right away if you have panic attacks or severe signs of phobias.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

To gain a better understanding of this disorder, ask your healthcare provider:

  • What could be causing chionophobia?
  • What type of therapy or treatment is right for me?
  • What kind of experience do you have with CBT, exposure therapy and other types of treatment?
  • How do I know if I’ll need short-term or long-term therapy?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A severe fear of snow and wintry weather can significantly impact your quality of life. Extreme anxiety and panic attacks can affect your ability to form relationships, hold a job and take part in your community. If you (or your child) have an illogical and intense fear of snow and ice, call your healthcare provider. Be honest with them about your symptoms. Be sure to share information about other anxiety disorders or phobias you have. Although there isn’t a cure for the disorder, therapy can reduce symptoms and help you live with chionophobia.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/25/2022.

References

  • Coleman JSM, Newby KD, Multon KD, Taylor CL. Weathering the Storm: Revisiting Severe-Weather Phobia, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (https://journals.ametsoc.org/configurable/content/journals$002fbams$002f95$002f8$002fbams-d-13-00137.1.xml?t:ac=journals%24002fbams%24002f95%24002f8%24002fbams-d-13-00137.1.xml) , 2014;95(8),1179-1183. Accessed 3/25/2022.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Phobic disorders (phobias). (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/quick-facts-mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/phobic-disorders-phobias) Accessed 3/25/2022.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Specific phobic disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/specific-phobic-disorders) Accessed 3/25/2022.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia) Accessed 3/25/2022.

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