Treatment for Asthenophobia: Fear of Fainting Keeping Me From Social Engagements

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Reader’s Question

I have been suffering from a very disturbing illness for over a decade. I’m 30 years old. The problem I have is that is I feel am going to faint in public places, especially somewhere where people know me. I feel like it’s going to be such embarrassment and fear that they are going find out that I have this strange kind of illness/anxiety.

Last night an episode happened again at a funeral place where people I know where present. I felt so close to a point that I would actually pass out. These episodes begin with a huge increase in heart beat, I sweat, I look for things to hold myself on, and my feet go uncontrolled (shake as if they are having an electrical shock).

I’ve gone to a couple of psychologists, but they recommended I take drugs. I refuse to take drugs because I don’t want to become addicted to them. I don’t ever take drugs. I believe in natural cures, and the drugs they recommended have very bad side effects. I spent a lot of time researching and studying about their side effects, so I want a different kind of treatment.

I hope you know about other treatment. I want you to be honest with me and tell me if there is something you can help me out with this long anxiety attack. I started to take St. John’s Wort pills, hoping they might help me.

Honestly, I can’t go to church, funerals, weddings, or public places and especially places where there is nothing to lean on or support my body with because I really feel I’m going to pass out. My vision gets blurry, and I start shaking. Interestingly, if I get a little buzzed or drunk I feel fine. But usually when I feel weak or I don’t sleep enough then it becomes worse. So, I hope you have an idea about these symptoms, and please let me know what are the best options you can provide so I overcome these attacks. Please help me. I can’t live like this anymore.

Psychologist’s Reply

What you describe sure sounds like you are struggling with uncontrolled anxiety. And Asthenophobia or “fear of fainting or weakness” is the result of anxiety attached to the concern one might faint or lose control, especially in a social situation.

Fear of fainting, and actual frequent fainting in certain situations are two very different things with different underlying physiology. We faint when blood pressure suddenly drops and our brains don’t get enough oxygen. Fainting is nature’s way of helping our brains get enough oxygen-rich blood back. When we’re anxious, we actually get more tense and blood pressure rises. We might fear our legs will go out from under us, but this is more a fear of loss of control and possible embarrassment in a social situation.

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It’s odd that you report that the psychologists you went to recommended medicine as the preferred treatment. Although psychiatrists are medical doctors who often prescribe chemical remedies, psychologists are non-medical providers who specialize in effective chemical-free treatments. And the non-medical treatments for anxiety are among the most successful and effective in all mental health. Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy (CBT) is the non-medical treatment of choice for anxiety-related problems. It can help you challenge and change some of the clearly evident thought patterns you’re having about your symptoms and how you’re interpreting the danger they pose. My best suggestion: after ruling out with a physician that your problems are based in a medical condition, visit with a psychologist or other mental health professional who specializes in state-of-the-art treatment of anxiety.

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