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Fear factor: students with phobias seek help

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]uman behavior is not always logical, as the mind can become afraid of ordinary objects, people or animals. This unnatural human behavior can happen to all people from children to adults.

Junior Kiren MacLeod experiences this irrational human behavior when he finds himself near birds. Whenever MacLeod finds himself near a bird, he feels an uneasiness and a rush of anxiety. As a result, MacLeod maneuvers around the bird to avoid any contact. This uneasiness that MacLeod feels is a phobia. In MacLeod’s case, the fear of birds is a phobia known as ornithophobia.

“I’m fine if [birds] keep their distance, but if they start flying up too close to me, I start to get really uncomfortable,” MacLeod said. “I know a few people with pet parrots, and I just hate the thought of one of them landing on me or something.”

MacLeod discovered his phobia on a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA, which gave him a fearful lasting impression of birds. MacLeod was in the fourth grade at the time and had stopped in front of an exhibit with some parakeets and parrots in it. The exhibit was essentially a huge room where the birds could fly around freely.

“I went in without even thinking about [my fear of birds] because I [had] never really been super close up with a bird to realize that they sort of freaked me out. I got one of the bird-feeding sticks, and a bird landed on my hand,” MacLeod said. “All of a sudden I got really anxious about the whole situation. I tensed up and was very nervous that something bad would happen. I don’t know what I was worried about, but I still just hate it when birds get super close up to me.”

Despite MacLeod’s phobia of birds, it is not a serious problem to deal with. It is pretty easy for MacLeod to avoid birds since they rarely fly close to humans. However, MacLeod is one of few teenagers who are able to find ways to solve their phobias.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15.1 percent of kids in the U.S. ages 13-18 have a lifetime prevalence of specific phobias which include the fear of heights, spiders and flying. Lifetime prevalence is the proportion of a population who have a specific fear or characteristic they have during their life.

Because of these statistics, some people are able to find solutions to their fears sooner than others. Depending on the type and severity of fear, people sometimes visit psychologists or therapists to help them cope with or find solutions to their fears.

Licensed professional counselor Tiffany S. Borst is a local therapist who specializes in helping people, mainly teenagers, who suffer from severe anxiety disorders, social anxiety and agoraphobia, the fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness or embarrassment. The most common phobia that she sees is the fear of social interaction.

[quote]“Many people avoid social interactions, phone calls, texts, social situations of any kind,” Borst said. “Even going to classes is hard [because of the] fear that they will have to interact with people. The ultimate fear here is that they will be judged or say something [that seems] stupid.”[/quote]

Borst also says she works with people who have other phobias unrelated to social fear. The fear of failure, needles, germs, heights, small places and crowds are not uncommon in her work. Compared to MacLeod’s phobia of birds, junior Zainab Ibitoye’s fear of cats, called ailurophobia, is much harder to cope with since cats interact with humans more frequently than birds. Ibitoye says her ailurophobia comes from her negative experiences with cats in the past.

“My most recent experience was this summer [when] I was at [a] friend’s house, and she has three cats,” Ibitoye said. “I repeatedly told her to put her cats away, but she didn’t care to do so. Every time one of her cats would come near me, my heart literally skipped a beat. I couldn’t take my mind off the cats even though we were having conversations; my mind wasn’t actually there it was just on the cats.”

This was not the only occasion where Ibitoye had a poor experience with cats. She described one incident where a stray cat in her neighborhood kept following her and her sister around. As they were trying to get away, the cat jumped on her sister. The incident increased Ibitoye’s fear of cats, even though she knows they are basically harmless.

“I know that they can’t really hurt me more than a tiny scratch,” Ibitoye said. “But every time I’m around a cat, I get an unsettling feeling [in my gut].”

Borst believes teens, and people in general, have phobias for different reasons. Sometimes it is related to a specific bad experience. Borst emphasizes that phobias, small or large, are treatable and that there are specialists ready and willing to help people who struggle with phobias.

“The most common and effective approach to treating fears and phobias is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a process of identifying and changing distorted thoughts that fuel the fear,” Borst said. “Phobias and anxiety in general are very common and very treatable, and if someone is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or fear that is in any way limiting them in their lives, they should seek help from a counselor.”

What phobias do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 comments

Bailey Stover November 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm

I wonder how many RBHS students are dealing with phobias? I had never thought about how hard things, like walking outside or going to a friend’s house, might be for people with this condition. It is sad to think about having to deal with this all your life. I hope people are able to get the help they need to overcome their phobias.

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Jared November 15, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Really interesting article Ryan. It seems like there are lots of phobias I didn’t know existed, then again there could possibly be phobias for everything. I guess I have a fear of spiders, but that’s pretty common.

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