What is trypophobia?

Do little irregular shaped holes in food skins or circles gathered close together make you feel queasy or anxious? If so, you might be experiencing ‘trypophobia’. While not officially recognised as a mental health difficulty and only a recent term coined during the last decade, it may be considered a type of phobia if it triggers excessive distress and impairment.


What are the key symptoms of trypophobia?

You might experience uncomfortable feelings at the sight of holes in clusters or bumps. Recent research has shown that the main feeling experienced is disgust rather than fear, making the condition somewhat different to that of a regular phobia, where fear is the overriding emotion. Alongside this can be intense physical symptoms like skin crawling, goosebumps, sweating, racing heart, nausea, and sometimes panic. Many sufferers may experience depression, generalised anxiety, and social anxiety alongside trypophobia.

A pomegranate

What foods can trigger trypophobia?

  • Irregular shapes and holes are plentiful in many natural foods. Honeycomb, seed pods, strawberries, pomegranate, watermelon, papaya, cantaloupes, corn on the cob, exotic mushrooms, even horizontally sliced pickles have a holey effect. One of the most obvious foods is of course the skin of plucked poultry
  • When cooking, the bubbles in batter create little holes - think pancakes, drop scones and crumpets
  • Other triggers can include Swiss cheese, sourdough bread, the bubbles in Aero chocolate bars, even the froth on your morning coffee
  • Common non-food triggers include beehives, coral, lotus seed pods, and snakes.

How can trypophobia impact everyday life?

Trypophobia may lead you to limit the range of foods you eat, avoid dining out, and dissuade you from food shopping. Alongside this it might make you hypervigilant as you look out for these holes, further increasing feelings of anxiety.

Why do some people experience trypophobia?

There are a few theories to support trypophobia, although there is limited research to date, these include:

  1. It could be part of how humans have evolved to keep ourselves safe by alerting us to the presence of parasites and infectious diseases. Although our brains might struggle to distinguish between threatening clustered hole patterns such as a snake or octopus, and similar but non-threatening patterns.
  2. Feelings of fear and suspicion around what might be inside the holes, such as insects, may cause discomfort and make us want to avoid these circumstances.
  3. Painful past illnesses and injuries which create these patterns (think chickenpox or measles) might mean we develop a negative association with the pattern.
Talking therapy in a CBT session

Can trypophobia be treated?

While there is limited evidence to support a particular treatment, it would make sense to treat trypophobia as a problem, based on an avoidance of difficult feelings.

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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may be helpful, this therapy helps you to live with the difficult feelings associated with trypophobia so they do not take over life. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy may also be applied to challenge unhelpful thoughts and avoidance behaviours, using exposure to feared items through imaginal and real exposure.

What are the coping strategies to help deal with trypophobia?

  • Identify your triggers and describe how they make you react emotionally and physically. Do you recall when it began? Is there a very first negative experience you can recall or is it more about feelings of disgust?
  • Consider what your values are for wanting to address this issue. What might it help you do in future? (e.g. to be able to enjoy meals out with a friend).
  • Set yourself goals by listing the hole patterns that are the least to the most distressing. Consider working with the least distressing first. Are you willing to experience the feelings in order to move forward?
  • Start with imagining the item, work towards looking at pictures, then looking at it for real. Deep breathing, relaxation, grounding yourself in the present, and using coping statements such as “I feel anxious and that’s ok. I know that there is nothing to fear here, and I am willing to let these feelings be present until they pass”.
  • Change your perspective on the things you fear. Start to learn about the food and why it has holes – it will help you rationalise your concerns.
  • Living with a phobia can be really challenging; be kind to yourself. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep will help you cope better with difficult feelings.

Now read…

Have you experienced trypophobia? Leave a comment below...

This guide was reviewed on 7 June 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Dr Laura Keyes is a Clinical Psychologist, registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and British Psychological Society (BPS). She runs a private practice offering psychological therapy and assessments for neurodiversity to children and adults in Bedfordshire. drlaurakeyes.com


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