Fear of the Forest

Fans of the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings or Alice in Wonderland see a great resource in forest lands in the telling of compelling fantasy. They are at times protectors and at times the hunters. They conceal, but they also hide (not always the same thing). Perhaps it is the two natures of a forest that cause some to love them and others to find them objects of fear. The unreasoning fear of the forest is known as Hylophobia and it affects more people than you might think.

The joy of the forest is the natural setting, but the forest can seem unsettling for those lost in the confinement of dense undergrowth.

What Causes the Fear of the Forest?

This fear is played out often in movies. Wild animals, serial killers and desperadoes hide in the shadows. Those same movies often show individuals being watched from the shadows with creepy music playing in the background.  While movies in and of themselves may not instill fear they may embolden fear that already exists.

Hearing a trusted adult say something like, “These woods give me the creeps” can provide enough of an idea to have you consider the possibly that there is reason to fear the woods. Where moments before it had been a place of potential tree climbing and exploration, suddenly you are left to consider that perhaps there is something evil or dangerous hiding behind a tree.

If you’ve ever been lost in the woods as a child (or even as an adult) then you know that this experience can leave you vulnerable to phobic tendencies. It can be easy to feel as if you’ve been left behind, forgotten and no longer noticeable in the dense cover of a forest.

Symptoms of Hylophobia

It can be easy and perhaps even pleasant to observe a forest from the solitude and openness of a meadow (pictured above), but when invited for a hike into the woods an individual with this phobia will feel a similar sense of being constrained that someone who lives with claustrophobia feels in a small space.

Other symptoms may also include…

  • An urge to flee
  • Air hunger
  • Trembling
  • Panic attacks
  • Social anxiety
  • A sense of control loss
  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Self loathing

The struggle with this fear has everything to do with what is not known about the hidden things in a forest.

How to Overcome Hylophobia

This fear can be minimized by learning more about signs found in the forest. You may be able to tell what creatures might be around from prints in the dirt or broken limbs. Most national forests have trails that should provide relative safety when guests remain on the trails.

A therapist should be able to help you come to terms with the feelings of being constrained while you are in the forest, and help you understand ways to combat your fear and replace it with a process of logical thinking to come to a conclusion about forests that is not dependent on emotion alone.

The fear of the forest is also referred to as:

  • Forest fear
  • Hylophobia
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