Stendhal syndrome: Overdosing on art can get too stressful to bear
September 20th, 2017
Filed under: Anxiety by ATAC Team

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we can just barely endure, and we stand in awe of it as it coolly disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke rightly acknowledges the coexistence of beauty and terror in his poem “Duino Elegies.” A piece of art is always a source of excitement and other ecstatic feelings. In fact, it can give a serious competition to substances in surging unimaginable feelings and emotions defined only by a person addicted to art.

An elixir to a grief-stricken mind or a paradigm of creativity, art can thrill and exhilarate an individual and at the same time petrify him or her with bewilderment. The breathtaking beauty of artworks is so powerful that it can captivate one under its spell.

Apparently, the exposure to aesthetically stimulating objects incite the feeling of repulsion and attraction at the same time. Many other prominent philosophers like Immanuel Kant have rightly expressed that excessive imagination can become a tool for the loss of the self. The involuntary emotion projection witnessed while watching artworks is commonly referred to as Stendhal’s syndrome.

People are often in awe of those majestic works of art, but may suddenly feel an intensely uncomfortable and unwanted sensation that may make them terribly sick. This strange tendency of confusion, disorientation or paranoia is known as Stendhal syndrome.

  • Exaltation of sensations and passionate emotions inflict distress

Stendhal Syndrome, also known as Florence Syndrome and hyperkulturemia, is a psychosomatic illness, triggered due to exposure to extensive or exquisite pieces of artworks. People suffering from this syndrome may experience a host of symptoms including heart palpitations that may result in panic attacks, intense dizziness, confusion and disorientation, nausea, dissociative episodes, temporary amnesia, paranoia, and hallucinations and temporary madness in some extreme cases. These symptoms may also surge when individuals feel intoxicated by the sublime beauty of nature, such as a sunset or a sunrise.

The syndrome is named after 19th century French author Marie-Henri Beyle, also known by pseudonym Stendhal, who first highlighted his experience while visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. He explained how the Renaissance masterpieces of the Basilica enthralled him to such an extent that at one time he reached a point wherein he experienced both heavenly sensations of the fine arts and other passionate feelings. When the feelings took a strong hold over him, he experienced a number of physical issues, such as heart palpitations, weakness, tremor, etc.

Stendhal syndrome is similar to Paris syndrome and Jerusalem syndrome wherein tourists displayed signs of dizziness, anxiety, hallucinations, tachycardia or delusions while witnessing the beauty of the respective cities.

  • Disturbing images prove overwhelming for sensitive people

In 1979, Dr. Graziella Magherini, who worked as the chief of psychiatry at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence analyzed over 100 tourists hospitalized after experiencing the stunning art in Florence. These tourists displayed a range of symptoms like panic attacks, hallucinations, etc. During her analysis, Magherini perceived that people who exhibited such symptoms were likely to have overdosed on art due to increased sensitivity and emotions.

The tourists who were hospitalized were found to be single and aged between 26 and 40 years. They were generally stressed by travel and affected by sleep issues. Moreover, about half of the patients had prior treatment for a mental illness. While art plays a crucial role in healing a wounded mind, the dark and disturbing details of the majestic Renaissance art are likely to incite a sensitive viewer’s subconscious feelings and memories.

This syndrome can cause phobia to art or fear of museums by triggering fainting or panicking that can hamper a person’s normal functioning. However, the effects are relatively short-lived and do not seem to require any kind of medical intervention. In severe cases, patients may require intensive treatment and drugs, such as antidepressants and anxiolytics.

Get help now

Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million people aged 18 and above in the United States. Despite being one of the highly treatable disorders, many people fail to access an effective treatment on time. While going through above types of syndromes, people should not hesitate from speaking to an expert. If you or someone you love is struggling with any kind of anxiety disorder, contact the Anxiety Treatment Advisors of Colorado to access a variety of evidence-based treatment plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-891-2539 or chat online to connect with the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in Colorado.

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