From spiders to heights, Friday the 13th brings out phobias, fears and frights

Sarah McGrath

What do you fear?

Is it spiders, enclosed spaces or flying on a plane?

“A phobia is a fear of a place or a particular thing,” said Michael Moore, the assistant director of the Kent State Psychological Clinic. “It can be almost anything from a fear of heights to a fear of water.”

Phobias are one of the most common forms of psychological pathology, Moore said.

Friday the 13th, which comes at the end of this week, is a day many people associate with phobias or superstitions.

In a 2004 story on National Geographic’s Web site, Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., said that an estimated “$800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do.”

The article also estimates that 17 to 21 million people in the United States are phobic or superstitious about the calendar date.

The fear of the number 13, according to the article, is deeply rooted in history within myths and biblical references (Judas was the 13th guest to the last supper, and so on).

But the fear of the date or number isn’t the only phobia out there.

“I am afraid of heights,” said Branden Vondrak, a senior visual communication design major. “I guess I just don’t want to fall down that far.”

Vondrak is not alone in his fear of heights. Moore said many people have healthy fears, but it is when that fear impairs their daily life that it becomes a concern.

“The hallmark is that the fear is something that is somehow functionally debilitating, something that causes you difficulty in your work or difficulty in your relationships with other people,” Moore said.

People can develop phobias from past negative experiences. For example, a person may develop a fear of dogs if he or she was bitten by one as a child.

“You can be afraid of just about anything,” Moore said. “You name it, someone is afraid of it. The different fears that people have are as varied as people’s experiences.”

As easy as it is to develop a phobia, it is just as easy to cure it.

“The way that you do that is to bring a person into contact with whatever they are afraid of,” Moore said. “If it’s heights, you take them to the top of a really tall building. If it is a dog, you find the biggest, scariest dog that you can and enclose them in a room with it.

“It is a lot of really intense anxiety at first, but then it tends to drop off very quickly. Most phobias can be cured this way.”

Contact features correspondent Sarah McGrath at [email protected].

Features editor Ryan Haidet contributed to this story.

Fascinating phobias

• Melissophobia – fear of bees

• Ablutophobia – fear of washing or bathing

• Geniophobia – fear of chins

• Didaskaleinophobia – fear of going to school

• Logophobia – fear of words

• Phalacrophobia – fear of becoming bald

• Hypnophobia – fear of sleep

• Chaetophobia – fear of hair

• Helminthophobia – fear of worms

• Venustaphobia – fear of beautiful women

• Electrophobia – fear of electricity

• Ergophobia – fear of work

• Triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number 13

Source: Encyclopedia of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties by Ronald M. Doctor and Ada P. Kahn.