The Real Fear of Phobia

For many years psychologists have been aware that our minds are more than capable of producing a real biological reaction to any given situation.

And, so as long as the phobic person ‘believes’ that the object or situation they fear represents danger to them, then they will experience real fear.

The majority of people who do suffer with a phobia understand that their fear is ‘irrational’ but continue to experience it regardless of this knowledge. This is why simply being told to “snap out of it” rarely produces a solution!

What is Bathmophobia?


Bathmophobia, or the fear of slopes or stairs, is a somewhat complicated phobia.

It is quite similar to climacophobia, or the fear of climbing stairs, except in its specific focus. If you have bathmophobia, you might panic when simply observing a steep slope, while people with climacophobia typically experience symptoms only when expected to actually climb or descend. The difference is subtle but important, and can only be accurately diagnosed by a trained clinician.


Bathmophobia is a specific phobia. The word itself defines what it means:

  • ‘Bathmo’ means step in Greek; and
  • ‘Phobia’ means fear in Greek.

Therefore, we have the meaning, which is a fear of steps.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 12.5 % of the American population will experience a phobia at some point in their life. Bathmophobia is a specific phobia.


The symptoms of Bathmophobia are very similar to other specific phobias and will often include:

  • Feelings of Panic, Dread or Terror.
  • Inability to Relax.
  • An Impending Sense of Dread.
  • Problems Concentrating.
  • Being quick tempered.
  • Feelings of dizziness.
  • Difficulties in becoming motivated.
  • Prickly sensations like pins and needles.
  • Palpitations.
  • Aches & Pains.
  • Fatigued Muscles.
  • Dry and Sticky mouth.
  • Sweating Excessively.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Migraines and Headaches.
  • Poor Quality of Sleep.

Bathmophobia Symptoms are generally automatic and uncontrollable and can seem to take over a person’s thoughts which frequently leads to extreme measures being taken to avoid the feared object or situation, what are known as ‘safety’ or ‘avoidance’ behaviours. Unfortunately, for the sufferer, these safety behaviours have a paradoxical effect and actually reinforce the phobia rather than solve it!

Bathmophobia may be the result of negative emotional experiences that can be either directly or indirectly linked to the object or situational fear. Over time, the symptoms often become ‘normalised’ and ‘accepted’ as a limiting belief in that person’s life – “I’ve learnt to live with it.”’ In just as many cases, Bathmophobia may have become worse over time as more and more sophisticated safety behaviours and routines are developed.


Bathmophobia may be caused by a wide range of factors. A particularly common cause is an early negative experience with stairs or a steep hill. If you slipped or fell on steep stairs or watched someone else struggle with shortness of breath while climbing, you may be at a greater risk of developing bathmophobia.

Particularly in children, bathmophobia can also be triggered by negotiating or even just contemplating a particularly scary looking set of stairs. One example is a child involved in a local community theater with stairs leading to the backstage costume loft. The stairs were steep and open at the back so you could see down as you climbed them, and the child could imagine slipping through them, even though they did not ever climb them themself.

Memories of those stairs played into dreams that included struggling to cross a sloped floor that would tilt to near-vertical as they neared their destination in the dreams. They may continue to feel apprehension when confronted with a sloped floor or a tricky set of stairs.


If your child has a fear of stairs or slopes, keep in mind that fears are a normal part of development. Bathmophobia, as with other phobias, is generally not diagnosed in children or adults unless it persists for more than six months.

Differential Diagnosis

In addition to the above-mentioned climacophobia, bathmophobia may be related to other disorders. Acrophobia, or the fear of heights, is exceptionally common. What appears to be a fear of stairs may, in fact, be a fear of the height that the stairs achieve. Illygnophobia, or the fear of vertigo, can also cause symptoms similar to those of bathmophobia.

Medical causes must also be considered. True vertigo is a medical disorder of the balance system that causes a feeling of spinning or dizziness. The term is also applied medically to similar symptoms that are not caused by a balance disorder. Both types can be worsened by even minor changes in height. By definition, a fear that is reasonable due to an existing medical condition cannot be called a phobia.


The good news is that the vast majority of people who suffer from Bathmophobia will find a course of psychotherapy helps enormously. Almost every phobia responds well to psychological interventions.

If your clinician determines that your symptoms are caused by bathmophobia, you are likely to receive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The goal of this type of therapy is to help you replace your fearful thoughts and behaviours with more rational alternatives. You will be taught relaxation exercises to help you remain calm, and slowly introduced to the object of your fear through a process known as systematic desensitisation.

Although it takes time, therapy has an excellent success rate in treating this type of phobia. Choosing a therapist that you trust is an essential component in working through your fear.

Did You Know?

  • Bathmophobia can be seen in both children and adults.
  • If you have medical vertigo, fearing that stairs and slopes may trigger your symptoms does not mean that you also have bathmophobia.
  • It is also fairly common among animals, particularly household pets.
  • Dogs trained as service animals may be rejected because of their fear of stairs.
  • Donald Trump has a fear of stairs.

Further Reading

Book: Face Your Fears

Book Title:

Face Your Fears – A Proven Plan to Beat Anxiety, Panic, Phobias, and Obsessions.

Author(s): David Tolin, PhD.

Year: 2012.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons.

Type(s): Hardcover.


Reclaim your life from crippling anxiety with this revolutionary step-by-step approach Nearly a third of all people will suffer from severe or debilitating fears – phobias, panic attacks, obsessions, worries, and more over the course of a lifetime.

Now Dr. David Tolin – a renowned psychologist and scientist at the Institute of Living and Yale featured on such programmes as The OCD Project, Hoarders, The Dr. Oz Show , and Oprah – offers help for nearly every type of anxiety disorder.

Dr. Tolin explains what fear really is, why you should face, not avoid, your fear, and how to beat your fear using gradual exposure techniques.

Practical action steps and exercises help you learn this unique approach to facing fear without crutches or other unhelpful things found in many other programs in order to achieve a life that is free of debilitating anxieties. Self–help guide that gives you the tools to take charge and overcome your fears Written by a leading authority on anxiety and based on the latest research provides a practical, step-by-step plan for beating many different kinds of fears—including social anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and phobias Face Your Fears will change the way you think about fear and what to do about it.

This up-to-date, evidence-based, and user-friendly self-help guide to beating phobias and overcoming anxieties walks you step by step through the process of choosing courage and freedom over fear.

Book: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook

Book Title:

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.

Author(s): Edmund J. Bourne, PhD.

Year: 2020.

Edition: Seventh (7th), Revised and Updated Edition.

Publisher: New Harbinger Publications.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


Celebrating 30 years as a classic in its field and recommended by therapists worldwide, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook is an unparalleled, essential resource for people struggling with anxiety and phobias.

Living with anxiety, panic disorders, or phobias can make you feel like you aren’t in control of your life. Tackle the fears that hold you back with this go-to guide. Packed with the most effective skills for assessing and treating anxiety, this evidence-based workbook contains the latest clinical research. You’ll find an arsenal of tools for quieting worry, ending negative self-talk, and taking charge of your anxious thoughts, including:

  • Relaxation and breathing techniques; and
  • New research on exposure therapy for phobiasLifestyle, exercise, mindfulness and nutrition tips.

Written by a leading expert in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), this fully revised and updated seventh edition offers powerful, step-by-step treatment strategies for panic disorders, agoraphobia, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), worry, and fear.

You will also find new information on relapse prevention after successful treatment, and updates on medication, cannabis derivatives, ketamine, exposure, nutrition, spirituality, the latest research in neurobiology, and more.

Whether you suffer from anxiety and phobias yourself, or are a professional working with this population, this book provides the latest treatment solutions for overcoming the fears that stand in the way of living a meaningful and happy life.

This workbook can be used on its own or in conjunction with therapy.