Phobias spur terror, panic in millions of Americans

Phobias spur terror, panic in millions of Americans

Photo: Illustration by Rachel Sheidler

By Kelsi Fannin, Fairmont Life Editor

Throughout a day walking through the hallways at Fairmont High School, many will hear the word “phobia.” Many teens claim to have a phobia of homework, or even of a few teachers, but in fact, these aren’t phobias at all, but mere dislikes that teens share among one another.

So what is a phobia? What are the most common ones? And how can they be treated, if necessary?

According to medicinenet.com, the definition of a phobia is “the unrelenting fear of a situation, activity, or thing that causes one to want to avoid it.” Phobias tend to run in families and can be considered by many a small sub-group of anxiety disorders.

Fairmont High School English teacher Darren McGarvey, who has a phobia of snakes, recalls his fear as a family-oriented one. “Honestly, ever since I can remember I’ve been afraid of them. It’s in a weird way a family thing – my grandmother, my dad and my sister all share this same fear.”

The most logical explanation as to how a particular person develops a phobia is through a traumatic event. This event usually occurs when the person is at a young age, and it leaves a lasting impression.

Fairmont senior Rachel Soellner’s fear of spiders came about through one of these childhood incidents.

“One theory why I have this fear is when I was younger, I was eating a sandwich, and I was also reading a book, so I wasn’t looking at what I was eating,” said Soellner. “I happened to look down and there was a spider crawling across my plate. I almost ate a big, hairy wolf spider. That’s when my fear turned into a full-blown phobia.”

Symptoms of phobias can involve panic attacks, which causes panic, dread, and terror, along with the physical feelings of shaking, sweating, rapid heart beat and trouble breathing.

Fairmont senior Devin Farley clearly has a phobia about cotton balls, based on the way she reacts when coming into contact with one. “When I come into contact with one, I get panicked. I start to profusely sweat all over, and I immediately look for an exit. Then, if someone chases me with cotton ball, I will run for my life,” said Farley.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that one of every 23 people have a phobia – or roughly 11.5 million people in the United States alone. But phobias are able to be treated thoroughly if severe enough.

The most effective way one can be treated is through the use of psychotherapy and medications prescribed for the specific phobia. One common form of psychotherapy is called desensitization, which involves the supportive and gradual exposure of the individual to circumstances that are increasingly close to the one they are phobic about. Some of these situations consist of actual or computerized anxiety-provoking stimuli, which allow patients to become accustomed to the object that they fear gradually so they begin to understand that it will not harm them in any way.

Another common form of therapy is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. There are a total of two techniques used to treat a patient. One is the Didactic Component, which involves educating the person about his phobia, and the second is called the Cognitive Component, which helps identify the thoughts and assumptions that influence the person’s actions and fears. Both are known to significantly decrease the individual’s fear.

Fears and phobias are not to be taken lightly, especially for the person with the phobia, but Fairmont students and teachers share amusing stories in attempt to lighten their fear.

Farley recalls a time when her older sister played a prank that Farley didn’t find funny for several years. “My older sister, Sophie, thought it was hilarious to put cotton balls under my pillow and blankets to surprise me at night,” said Farley. “I used to freak out when my toes would touch them.”

McGarvey remembers getting in trouble with his uncle for what he did to former customers. “I used to work at my uncle’s souvenir and gift shop, where he sold rubber snakes. When customers would buy them, I’d hand them a sack and make them bag their own. My uncle used to get so mad at me,” he said.

For a complete list of the most common phobias, go to http://phobialist.com/.