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

Is Skin Fairness a Better Predictor for Impaired Physical & Mental Health than Hair Redness?

Research Paper Title

Skin fairness is a better predictor for impaired physical and mental health than hair redness.


About 1-2% of people of European origin have red hair.

Especially female redheads are known to suffer higher pain sensitivity and higher incidence of some disorders, including skin cancer, Parkinson’s disease and endometriosis.


Recently, an explorative study performed on 7,000 subjects showed that both male and female redheads score worse on many health-related variables and express a higher incidence of cancer.

Here, the researchers ran the preregistered study on a population of 4,117 subjects who took part in an anonymous electronic survey.


They confirmed that the intensity of hair redness negatively correlated with physical health, mental health, fecundity and sexual desire, and positively with the number of kinds of drugs prescribed by a doctor currently taken, and with reported symptoms of impaired mental health.

It also positively correlated with certain neuropsychiatric disorders, most strongly with learning disabilities disorder and phobic disorder in men and general anxiety disorder in women.

However, most of these associations disappeared when the darkness of skin was included in the models, suggesting that skin fairness, not hair redness, is responsible for the associations.


The researchers discussed two possible explanations for the observed pattern, the first based on vitamin D deficiency due to the avoidance of sunbathing by subjects with sensitive skin, including some redheads, and second based on folic acid depletion in fair skinned subjects, again including some (a different subpopulation of) redheads.

It must be emphasised, however, that both of these explanations are only hypothetical as no data on the concentration of vitamin D or folic acid are available for the subjects.

The results, as well as the conclusions of current reviews, suggest that the new empirical studies on the concentration of vitamin D and folic acids in relation to skin and hair pigmentation are urgently needed.


Flegr, J. & Sýkorová, K. (2019) Skin fairness is a better predictor for impaired physical and mental health than hair redness. Scientific Reports. 9(1):18138. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54662-5.