Mar 28th 2023
Ergophobia is an irrational and excessive fear of working that can cause a great deal of anxiety and distress. Ergophobia may lead to impairments in functioning or avoidance of work but can be treated with therapy and medications.
Ergophobia, also occasionally referred to as ergasiophobia, work aversion, or workplace phobia, is the irrational and excessive fear of work. It can cause severe distress as well as impairments in social and professional functioning, and may result in the long-term avoidance of work .
People with ergophobia instantly feel immense fear and anxiety when anticipating going to work or when at work. This fear can cause physical and mental distress and result in an inability to carry out professional tasks and activities.
Although ergophobia is not specifically mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) , it is considered a specific phobia, further categorized as a situational type .
Research about specific phobias is limited. The limited research is partially because many people with phobias do not seek professional help. Without professional help, individuals aren’t diagnosed, thus limiting available information . Often, phobias will overlap with other mental health disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, or depression, therefore, making it even more challenging to diagnose.
In order for someone to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, the fear must be disproportionate to any actual threat . For example, a surgeon may experience some level of anxiety about the minimal risk of a patient dying on the operating table. However, a surgeon with ergophobia might experience a debilitating fear of this occurring, causing them to avoid operating on patients altogether.
Another of the criteria outlined in the DSM-5 under specific phobia is that the fear and anxiety is not better explained by the presence of another mental disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or social anxiety disorder .
As such, ergophobia is not caused by the presence of these conditions or by their symptoms, although there may be similarities in their presentations. For example, someone with OCD may experience a preoccupation with producing perfect work, which might also cause high levels of stress and anxiety and result in avoidance but would not be classified as ergophobia.
The exact cause of ergophobia is not known, but research suggests several potentially contributing causes and risk factors that can increase the chance of a specific phobia developing.
Someone with ergophobia might experience severe anxiety about the possibility of making a mistake at work, which could result in punishment, embarrassment, an increase in low self-esteem, or other negative consequences .
Ergophobia may be caused by exposure to a traumatic experience at work or a serious consequence to an occurrence that caused an intense emotional response, resulting in a debilitating fear that becomes associated with going to work .
For example, an employee may regularly be shouted at by their boss, resulting in feelings of shame and guilt, thereby creating a conditioned emotional response to the workplace.
Similar to the above, a person may develop ergophobia if they are exposed to a colleague experiencing a traumatic event or negative consequence to their actions, who then has an intense emotional response.
The same emotional response may be experienced by the individual, despite the situation not being directly related to them, as it has been modeled by their colleague and internalized, so they now associate this emotion with work .
Studies indicate that there is a strong familial link associated with the development of specific phobias. A large proportion of people with a specific phobia have been found to have a relative with an anxiety disorder, phobia, or both, showing that a genetic predisposition is likely .
Studies of the neurobiology of fear and specific phobias have found that there may be a difference in the activation and function of the fear response in the amygdala of people with a phobia, suggesting that they may have an increased sensitivity to fear that has caused the development of a phobia .
Many people with a specific phobia don’t seek treatment, as they may just continue to live with the phobia, avoid the triggering stimulus, or feel anxious about asking for help. However, without treatment, most phobias will persist and may worsen, so it is important to seek professional advice .
Currently, it is not clear if each phobia responds to treatment in the same way, as there is limited research on the different types of specific phobia. Treatment for phobias will typically involve exposure, response prevention, and desensitization, with the aim to gradually decrease fear associated with a stimulus .
You should take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor, without taking too much, skipping doses, or suddenly stopping your medication, as this can cause adverse effects and potentially worsen your mental and physical health.
The prevalence of ergophobia is not known, due to a lack of research and reporting of the condition. However, studies show that between 1-10% of the population experiences a debilitating phobia, while females are more likely than males to be diagnosed with a specific phobia .
It is normal to experience anxiety about work, due to a pressure to perform, worrying about upcoming meetings or presentations, difficult dynamics amongst colleagues or with your boss, or because of burnout and excessive fatigue caused by being overworked .
These stressors may cause an impact to physical and emotional wellbeing and result in taking time off work or slight impairments in performance, along with increasing anxieties and stress related to work.
However, this would be a proportionate and rational response to such challenges, thus would not be classified as ergophobia, which is defined as an irrational and disproportionate level of anxiety . If this persists and worsens to become debilitating or leads to excessive distress or avoidance, it may develop into ergophobia.
Similarly, anxiety about work may be due to social anxiety, causing a fear of speaking in meetings or socializing with colleagues, which may have similar outcomes to ergophobia, such as excessive distress or avoidance and may also be considered disproportionate .
However, the diagnostic criteria states that the symptoms of ergophobia are not due to another mental condition, such as social anxiety, so although the two may be similar in many ways, in this instance it would not be classified as ergophobia .
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