Megalophobia explained: Causes, test and treatments


If you find large things terribly frightening and panic-inducing – it could be natural structures, buildings, vehicles or even big people – then you might have megalophobia.

It’s not an official diagnosis as such, but rather a very rare and particular form of an official psychiatric diagnosis known as ‘specific phobia’.

Because megalophobia itself isn’t treated as a standalone distinct condition by psychiatrists, it means there isn’t any formal data on how common it is. However, anecdotally, it’s clear that a significant number of people around the world identify with the condition – for instance, there’s a Reddit dedicated to it.

What is megalophobia?

It’s an extreme, pathological fear of large things. But it’s more than having a ‘wooah’ feeling of awe. If you have megalophobia, the mere sight of a large object immediately triggers in you intense anxiety, and possibly panic, out of all proportion to the amount of danger that you’re in.

In severe cases, you might even get triggered by mere images or thoughts of large things. Bear in mind the specific triggers will vary from person to person and the meaning of ‘large’ will be highly subjective.

For instance, for some people, the fear-inducing trigger might be large buildings specifically, such as skyscrapers. For others, it might be mountains, giant cranes, huge waves or even vast UFO spaceships in science fiction movies.

A woman standing in front of a large golden statue of the buddha

The ‘Reclining Buddha’ golden statue at Wat Pho, Thailand, is 15m tall and 46m long © Getty Images

Another person with the condition might have a more generalised fear of large things – so anything they happen to perceive as large could cause them to freak out, even an oversized bodybuilder or an elephant at the zoo.

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Strictly speaking, to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, such as megalophobia, the phobia would need to be present for six months or more rather than be a transient experience.

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What are the symptoms of megalophobia?

In a person with megalophobia, the sight (or sometimes even the thought) of a triggering large thing will typically cause a range of anxiety-related symptoms including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing/shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Panic
  • A strong desire to escape
  • A strong desire to avoid similar objects in the future

What causes megalophobia?

The exact causes are likely to vary from person to person, but generally speaking, specific phobias like megalophobia are thought to be caused by a mix of genetic vulnerability and particular learning experiences.

For instance, it’s possible that a person could have had a terrifying experience in childhood that involved a large object, such as getting knocked down by a huge wave or being scared by an unsightly large statue or the shadow of a creepy huge crane.

A common factor that can then fuel phobias further is avoidance – so, if a person begins to deal with their fear by avoiding large things, this can paradoxically increase the power of those things to trigger a fear reaction in them.

Earth in space next to the Sun

At 1,391,000km, the Sun’s diameter is 109 times larger than Earth’s © Getty Images

How can I get diagnosed and treated?

From reading our description of megalophobia you probably already have a good sense of whether you have the condition or not.

On an informal basis, to dig a little deeper, you could check out the Reddit dedicated to megalophobia to see how you respond to some of the imagery that tends to trigger people with the condition.

To get a formal diagnosis, you’d need to talk to your doctor and get a referral to a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. They’ll ask you questions about how long you’ve had the problem, how serious your symptoms are and whether it’s causing you distress and interfering with your life.

Typically, treatment would involve graded exposure to your fear triggers – your therapist will help you manage your anxiety when thinking about large things and then build up to managing your anxiety when confronted with large things in real life.

a bridge held up by a giant concrete hand

Visitors walk along the 150-metre-long Cau Vang ‘Golden Bridge’ in the Ba Na Hills near Danang © Getty Images

Fear is a normal human emotion that helps to protect us from danger. It’s only when it grows out of control that it becomes a problem.

Many specific phobias are related to physical threats – such as heights or deep water – which it make some rational sense to be wary it. Megalophobia is in that category.

Obviously, we can get crushed by big things, so it’s only sensible to take caution around them.

The problem for people with megalophobia is that their fear reaction is out of control and it gets triggered even when the danger is in fact minimal – such as the mere sight of a giant plane on the runway or a cargo container ship in a port, even from a safe distance.

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