Thursday, 28 May 2015

What is Atychiphobia?

 - Tsz Ching Cheung

Hello, everyone - it's my first blog post for Student Minds. It's the first time for me to talk openly about my mental health history. I sincerely hope that it might help you understand more about Atychiphobia.

Before I talk about my experiences, let's understand what Atychiphobia is.

According to Wikipedia, Atychiphobia is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure. Individuals with Atychiphobia tend to set excessively high standards for themselves. They believe that if they are not 'successful enough', they will be worthless and unloved. As a result, they feel anxious at any occasions in which they have to be examined, including homework, examinations, interviews, etc. 

Ironically, since they have set such a ridiculously high standard for themselves, it is almost impossible for them to reach the standard. They feel like there is no chance for them to do the task 'perfectly'. They start to get more and more anxious, and finally overwhelmed by the negative emotions. As a result, they choose to procrastinate or even totally give up on the task.

In the academic setting, it can be hard to live with Atychiphobia. We often want to get nothing less than full marks. So if we could only achieve 95 at the moment, we would just give up. It's because if we do not do the task, we would never fail (and never win, of course).

How does it feel to have Atychiphobia? Well, I can try to explain!

Let's imagine that you have to finish an essay. It's extremely difficult, and you have absolutely no clue how to write it.

And you have less than 1 week to finish the essay.

You try to start with the introduction, but everything you write just looks terrible.

"Oh my God, the sentence structure looks awful...."

"Have I used the right words?"

"Should I start with the second paragraph instead...but I don't know what to write! I'm such an idiot!"

"What if the marker finds the introduction not impressive enough? Will I get a low grade because of it? What should I do?"

So you change the words. And you change them again. And again.

But no matter how to modified the sentence, it just looks equally disastrous.

You feel like your chest is being burnt. Your heart rate increases, you breathe faster, and it seems like there is a fire rising in your lungs.

The only thing you could think about is what might happen if you fail this assignment. Your parents no longer love you, your teachers are disappointed, and you lose all your friends at school.

You are overwhelmed with the negative emotions, and you can no longer focus on the task. As a result, you decide to leave the desk.

The same thing happens over and over again.  Every time when you try to do the assignment, you're defeated by the anxiety.

But as time passes, the deadline looms closer and closer.

You feel more and more hopeless. You feel like it is impossible for you to finish the essay. 

The more you procrastinate, the more difficult the task looks.

The more difficult the task looks, the more likely that you'll procrastinate.

Finally, the deadline has arrived, and you haven't even written 1 word.

A lot of people thought Atychiphobia only occurs in the context of examinations or competition, where the performance of participants is directly evaluated. In fact, Atychiphobia could appear anywhere

A person with Atychiphobia can get anxious at lectures because he is worried that he might not behave like a perfect student. He could also get anxious at a gym, as he is afraid that he might not use the equipment perfectly. He might even get anxious at social interaction because he fears that he might not look perfect enough.

It is not uncommon for individuals to not hand in homework, not attend examinations or give up on interviews. Therefore, it can lead to significant consequences.

What makes it worse is that teachers and parents often find it very difficult to understand Atychiphobia. Individuals with Atychiphobia tend to be quite intelligent and hard-working, and usually have demonstrated excellent performances in the past. As you can imagine, teachers can't understand why a straight-A student would suddenly decide to give up on his examination or avoid going to school. They would think, why don't they just do the homework? They are neither stupid nor lazy, so why don't they just try HARDER?

Also, individuals with Atychiphobia might not necessarily demonstrate anxiety in places other than the school or examination centre. In my experience, I did not show extreme emotional responses when I wasn't in school. So when I went to talk with teachers in restaurants, they did not believe that I had any mental illness and I should be able to think myself out of fear and panic. As a result, individuals with Atychiphobia often need to face not only the illness itself, but also the misunderstanding from teachers and parents that can occur.

Finally, I want to share a few tips in taking care of friends and family with Atychiphobia. 

There are five sentences that you should never say to an individual that is suffering from Atychiphobia.

1. "Just relax! You won't die even if you fail!"

Seriously, if someone said this to me four years ago, I would EXPLODE!

2. "Why haven't you finished your homework? The deadline is coming!"

As I have mentioned, procrastination is a common trait of Atychiphobia. They do not procrastinate because they are lazy - they procrastinate because they are anxious. Therefore, it means that they know that they are running out of time, but they just could not do it. They have probably been criticising themselves for days. So do them a favour, don't blame them!

3. "I just want you to finish the homework, it doesn't matter even if you do a terrible job."

But in their mind, 'doing a terrible job' is a lot more horrifying than 'not being able to finish the job'!

4. "Have you thought about the consequences of......"

Yes, they have. They know it more than you do. They just can't do it.

5. "Please, couldn't you just do it for me?"

People with Atychiphobia do care about their family and friends. They really want to satisfy your wants - they just can't do it. Saying this will just make them feel more and more and guilty, and it does nothing but worsen the situation.


  1. Your article was really helpful. I didn't even know that I am suffering from atychiphobia.

  2. Could you tell me how to heal from Atychiphobia?