To some extent, we all have a fear of failure at some point in our life. Nobody wants to not succeed. It’s actually even normal (and common) to experience fear or apprehension about failing. 

That said, if you find you’re so afraid of failing at something that you can’t even try it, or if your fear is so paralyzing that it’s interfering in your daily life, you might be experiencing atychiphobia, or fear of failure phobia. Phobias are irrational, intense, and very persistent fears about something — they could be fear of a person, an activity, or a situation. It can even be an internal fear about being alone like autophobia, or having a disease like nosophobia. 

We’ll explore what the atychiphobia definition really means, symptoms and signs of this phobia, and risk factors to be aware of. We’ll also discuss how a diagnosis is made and what treatment options are available. Read on to learn more about atychiphobia.  

Symptoms of Atychiphobia

What is atychiphobia? Atychiphobia can be defined as an abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failing at something in your life. Any mistake you make can lead to ultimate failure. This chronic fear can be so extreme that it negatively affects your life. Atychiphobia affects an estimated 2 – 5% of the population. Symptoms of an irrational fear of failure can range from mild to extreme and can include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty or rapid breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Pain in the chest
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Trembling sensations or shaking
  • Digestive distress
  • Sweating
  • Hot and or cold flashes

While the above are all physical symptoms, there are also emotional symptoms that may present, including:

  • Having an overwhelming feeling that you need to escape a situation you’re fearful of
  • Having extreme feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Feeling like you’re detached from yourself
  • Thinking and believing you might die or pass out
  • Having an intense feeling you’ve completely lost control
  • Feeling powerless over your fear

“The fear of failure can range in symptoms from mild to more severe that can impede one’s daily life. Anxiety and depression often go along with this overwhelming fear, and it is important to know there is help available; you do not have to struggle alone.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Self-limiting is common for people with atychiphobia. This means you may be prone to sabotaging your own efforts to succeed. An example of this would be never beginning an important project, ensuring it fails, just so you don’t actually fail after completing it.

Signs That You Have a Fear of Failure

There are several signs that you might have a fear of failure. Some of the more common ones can include:

  • Being a perfectionist: It’s not uncommon for perfectionists to also have a fear of failure phobia. People who are perfectionists often have an intense need for things to be in order or perfect, which sometimes results in atychiphobia.
  • Exhibiting learned helplessness: Learned helplessness can be common with atychiphobia. In this case, you may become so fearful about unpredictability in your life that you avoid things you’re afraid you’ll fail at. An intense belief that you’re not good enough may even cause you to withdraw from life completely.
  • Having obsessive thoughts: A fear of failure can cause you to obsess about decisions you need to make or other things in your life. These obsessive thoughts can become overwhelming and disruptive, ultimately interfering with daily life.

Risk Factors of Atychiphobia

It can be difficult to put a finger on exactly why you’re experiencing an unnatural fear of failure. There are numerous risk factors for developing different phobias. You may be at higher risk for atychiphobia if you:

  • Have perfectionistic tendencies
  • Failed at important personal goals in the past
  • Have a genetic predisposition to atychiphobia
  • Have an eating disorder, mood disorder, or anxiety disorder

Through a process known as observational learning, you may also have a higher risk for atychiphobia if you were shaped in early life by someone who also had a fear of failure.

Diagnosis of Atychiphobia

If you have a repetitive fear of failure that’s beginning to impact your daily life negatively, it could be atychiphobia. A doctor or therapist can help diagnose your symptoms and suggest possible treatment options.

When you seek help, you’ll be asked questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing, your family medical history, your personal, social, and psychiatric history, and any prescription or natural medications that you use routinely.

Some of the known criteria considered for a formal diagnosis of atychiphobia include whether you might:

  • Avoid situations, people, and objects that might cause this specific phobia
  • Experience excessive anxiety in routine fear-causing situations
  • Have an immediate panic attack or strong fear response to moderate stimuli

Your family doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, licensed therapist, or another mental health professional to make a formal diagnosis.

Treatment of Atychiphobia

The goal of treatment for any phobia is to improve the quality of life. Although medication is sometimes prescribed, treatment for atychiphobia tends to be most successful when therapy is used as well. Some commonly recommended and successful treatment options for overcoming phobias might include one of or a combination of the following. 

Psychotherapy

Possible treatment options for atychiphobia include psychotherapy (talk therapy) techniques like online exposure therapy and online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Exposure therapy uses repeated, increasing in intensity exposures to redefine responses to fearful scenarios. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy utilizes exposure plus other methods to retrain your brain about how it perceives fear.

“Getting treatment for your concerns around atychiphobia earlier can make all the difference. Working with a therapist, you can not only get support, but you can learn how to navigate the fear of failure and learn new strategies to manage the challenging thoughts and feelings.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Medications

Prescription medications can also be used in conjunction with therapy, especially during the initial phases to reduce short-term stress and anxiety that might be contributing to your extreme fear of failure. Some people with atychiphobia use beta-blockers to stop adrenaline from speeding up their heart and elevating their blood pressure before stressful events.

Others benefit from mild sedatives to help them remain calm in anxious situations. Benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be prescribed to treat the symptoms of atychiphobia.

Lifestyle modifications

Some people can cope with mild cases of atychiphobia without professional help or prescription medications. Certain lifestyle changes might prove beneficial.

For instance, learning and routinely practicing mindfulness meditation exercises can help you slow down, live in the moment, and avoid distractive thoughts of failure or inadequate performance.

Other relaxing endeavors might be helpful, too. Yoga, deep breathing sessions, journaling, and massage can help you destress and cope with anxiety about an upcoming challenge you’re facing. A calm, focused mind is better able to handle the fear of failure than a nervous, unfocused one will be.

Some research shows that different mindfulness interventions can be effective for those living with atychiphobia. Learning mindfulness techniques might significantly help you cope with avoidance or anxiety issues that stem from atychiphobia.

We all deserve to be content and have confidence in our abilities. If you think that your fear of failure is out of control and you’re not responding well to the lifestyle modifications listed above, then it might be time to seek professional help. Atychiphobia treatment is more effective the earlier you start in your journey.