Cyberphobia is a term that is gaining momentum as we increase our reliance on computers. This phobia can be a disabling condition, as it’s almost impossible to live without computers and their influence on our lives. Fortunately, many forms of treatment are effective in minimizing its impact.
What is Cyberphobia?
Cyberphobia is an extreme fear of computers or specific uses, such as certain software, websites, or apps. This anxious response may also be related to fear of using smartphones and the internet. At its most extreme, people may actively avoid places where computers are present such as work, school, stores, or medical offices. Cyberphobia is similar to other phobias, which have common characteristics with many anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of Cyberphobia
Symptoms can be physical as well as psychological. They may get worse over time or may remain steady. Prevalence may remain level as our youngest generation will always be exposed to the newest technology from birth. In contrast, older generations will become grounded with their familiar means of cyber access. Many symptoms can occur when exposed to computers, but these vary between individuals.
Symptoms may include:
- Avoidance coping from technology
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
- Shaking or trembling
Possible Causes of Cyberphobia
A genetic predisposition to anxiety can predispose a person to cyberphobia, as can a personal history of traumatic events with technology and environmental factors related to adverse “cyber” exposure. For example, someone may have made a mistake and commented publicly on social media when they meant to message a friend or might have accidentally purchased something they didn’t mean to purchase. These things can trigger a fear of making another mistake.
Exposures to technology have increased of late due to the explosive growth of AI (artificial intelligence), which has provoked fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown in many people.
The risk of developing this condition is enhanced for those experiencing:1
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Other phobias
- Panic disorders
Environmental factors that might develop cyberphobia in someone include:
Some people with cyberphobia create and feed doomsday scenarios. This potential threat to human existence was apparent around Y2K movement when society transitioned from the 1900s to the 2000s. There was tremendous anxiety over how the world might end once the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve of 1999. Some people jump to the worst possible outcome, which may have led some to fear technology would be what led to our demise. So much so that they don’t want to depend on it.
Social and Cultural Factors
Many contributors to cyberphobia stem from our beliefs and other societies’ beliefs. We can assume that cyberphobia may impact younger people less than older individuals with less experience and comfort with technology.2
Our culture expects us to be tech-savvy and have at least minimal computer proficiency and that there’s something wrong with those who don’t. Optimization has led to most jobs requiring competency with computer technology. This new standard may make some feel undermined by technology, fearing the potential shift of no longer being able to engage in society without technology.
People with previous symptoms or diagnoses of other mental health conditions may be more likely to have cyberphobia. Family history may also play a factor in its development. Those with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and other phobias will be more likely to face specific fears around using, or even exposure to, computers.
Common comorbid conditions that can feed into cyberphobia may include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: OCD is connected with thought patterns that build on fear and a desire for what is deemed familiar and safe.
- Anxiety disorders: Having one anxiety disorder increases the likelihood of having anxiety in other areas.
- Depression: When people are depressed, their thinking may become more negative, pessimistic, and fearful.
- Panic disorder: With panic disorder, people tend to have peaks of fear, where many things feel ominous, scary, and overwhelming.
What Triggers Cyberphobia?
There are many possible triggers for this phobia. When someone has to use a computer in a way they aren’t familiar with, they may become extremely fearful. This fear response can happen just from thinking about being near a computer. Cyberphobia may lead people to fear using the internet and feel vulnerable and afraid about privacy and security.3 Any type of technology can become a trigger, with the phobia extending to smartphones, cell phones, tablets, and e-readers.
How is Cyberphobia Diagnosed?
Cyberphobia can be diagnosed by a medical or behavioral health professional. Any clinician with expertise in diagnosing phobias and anxiety can help determine if this diagnosis fits.3 It may be helpful to meet with the individual and a family member to help them get a clear picture of their symptoms, along with the duration and magnitude of the impact of those symptoms. Diagnosing specialists can then use this information to make a precise assessment than just present evidence.
Popular Choices For Online Therapy
BetterHelp – Best For Those “On A Budget”
Online-Therapy.com – Best For Multiple Sessions Per Week
According to 14 Best Therapy Services (updated on 1/16/2023), Choosing Therapy partners with leading mental health companies and is compensated for marketing by BetterHelp and Online-Therapy.
It’s natural for people with cyberphobia to wonder about their prognosis. Will they get better? Worse? How will they manage their symptoms? The good news is that there is hope. Treatment works. Therapy is effective, and medications may bring relief. People can undoubtedly develop strong coping tools and skills to have a better quality of life. While this is challenging, it’s certainly far from hopeless.
Treatment for Cyberphobia
There is hope for those who have cyberphobia with effective treatments that are available and accessible. Therapy is the most effective treatment for phobias, with medication also being a helpful treatment for many. A combination of medication and therapy can be a powerful approach to take. Including a partner or other family member in therapy can enhance treatment outcomes. Treatment can be life-changing for someone with cyberphobia whose life has been negatively impacted by their fears.
As the first line of treatment, psychotherapy has been found to bring the most effective outcomes in recovery for those with debilitating phobias. If you are wondering if you need therapy best time to seek professional help is at the first sign of symptoms. If someone wonders when the right time for treatment is, the right time is now to ensure symptoms do not become worse. The benefits of therapy include peacefully living with technology and overcoming what can be crippling fear. Find the right therapist who has expertise in treating phobias. An online therapist directory will help locate a therapist either online or in person.
Therapy options for treating cyberphobia include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a model that helps people modify their unhelpful thought patterns and shift them to more productive ways of thinking and behaving. When treating with CBT, you will practice altering those unhelpful thoughts of technology into new ideas that are accurate, true, and helpful.
- Exposure therapy is a CBT tool that helps people expose themselves to their triggers, making them less reactive. Exposure therapy allows you to gradually expose yourself to technology while developing a calmer response progressively.
- Systematic desensitization is a form of exposure therapy that helps people gradually and slowly increase their comfort with the feared thought (computers are scary) while remaining relaxed and less reactive. This is a structured approach that leads people to overcome their fears in a stepwise, orderly fashion.
- Virtual reality exposure therapy uses technology (ironic, but it works) to expose people to their feared situations or thoughts. This approach uses the power of distraction to shift focus away from fear and anxiety and toward calming the body and spirit in new ways.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another form of CBT, and it focuses on using mindfulness and behavioral strategies to help reduce symptoms. These mindful tools allow people to remain calmer and more relaxed, making accepting thoughts on technology easier to help them heal.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) trains people in specific skills that can increase their ability to tolerate distress and build problem-solving strategies. We know that applying new tools can move people toward less fearful responses in powerful ways. These approaches will help in many areas of life, not just the fear of computers.
Medication for anxiety can help people cope if cyberphobia is diagnosed as being part of an anxiety disorder. A medical provider can discuss which prescription might be best to try first. Many begin by seeing their primary care provider, who may provide a prescription or refer them to a psychiatric prescriber.
Some of the medication classes that have helped manage symptoms of cyberphobia include:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)*
- Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)*
*These medications in the SSRI and SNRI drug class have a black box warning, the most severe kind of warning from the FDA for the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in certain people. You should talk with your doctor about these risks before starting these medications.
**This medication class carries a black box warning, the most severe kind of warning from the FDA for abuse or misuse, risk of physical dependence, and risk of severe side effects, including death, when combined with an opioid.
Questions to Ask your Health Team about Cyberphobia
It’s understandable that when someone makes an appointment with healthcare or behavioral health providers, they will have plenty of questions. The more information people have about this condition, the better their outcomes will be. Developing a good understanding of cyberphobia symptoms and treatment options is essential. Ignorance is not bliss; awareness is.
Some questions to ask your health team about cyberphobia include the following:
- What causes cyberphobia?
- What other conditions should I be assessed for?
- What kinds of medicines would be most helpful?
- Do you provide CBT, or can you refer me to someone who can?
- What might other therapy approaches be promising for me to try?
- Would mindfulness and relaxation be appropriate?
How to Cope with Cyberphobia
It is increasingly difficult to avoid technology in our digital age. Most people interact with technology and computers every day. Nearly every business and organization are dependent on computers. The frustration for people with this phobia increases daily as the world embraces technology even more passionately than it already does.4
There are many ways to cope with cyberphobia, such as:
Taking a Class
Taking classes may provide concrete ways to build confidence and develop essential skills and comfort with computers. Some people may need a form of CBT to help them be able to think about, register for, and attend a class dealing with computers. Given their heightened levels of fear and avoidance, many people are hesitant to seriously consider this option before receiving supportive therapy.
Goal setting can motivate people to push through some of their fear and seek appropriate and timely treatment. A critical first goal would be to explore which therapists with the skills necessary to help with this problem. Another goal could be to discuss this with a medical provider. Even small goals are a great place to start.
Why is this important? Because without healthy self-care practices, people can fall into despair and worsening anxiety. These are serious conditions that take energy and clear thinking to overcome. Self-care is at the core of how people can maintain the energy and optimism to move through cyberphobia.
Some helpful ways to practice self-care include:
- Spending time in nature
- Strengthening social connections
- Maintaining health and wellness
Cyberphobia is a real, potentially debilitating disorder that can lead to distress for those who live with it. The causes may include genetics, personal history, and traumatic experiences with co-occurring conditions, including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The most important thing to remember is that cyberphobia is treatable and that people can get better. With proper treatment, people can move forward with greater comfort, calmer responses to technology, and reduced fear of the internet.