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  • Writer's pictureKate Warren

Boo! Did I scare you?

Welcome back to the Stay U blog. For those just joining us, my name is Kate and I'm a Counsellor and Career Coach. Stay U is my baby, and I'm passionate about helping those in the LGBT community.

How is it October already?! That means that Halloween is only a couple of weeks away, which made me think about how triggering it can be for some people. For some, strangers dressed in scary costumes randomly knocking on their door can cause extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Others want to be part of their friend group, who have organised to go trick or treating, but the thought of someone jumping out from behind a bush or standing behind them in a Pennywise mask, makes them feel physically ill. Speaking of which - I saw two guys dressed in Pennywise costumes in Osaka during my recent trip. To their surprise, I waved at them. Bet they didn't expect that!

Fear can be caused by many things - childhood experiences, social anxiety, watching too many cheesy horror movies, or something more serious, like Agoraphobia (a fear of the outside world). Everybody is afraid of something. Fear is a common emotion experienced by everybody. It's vital for survival and triggered by real danger and past negative experiences. Fear can cause nervousness, mild anxiety, discomfort and distress. When your fear impacts your everyday life or is extreme in nature, it can be categorised as a phobia. A phobia is usually caused by a perceived threat. It can cause shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhoea, and even panic attacks. In some cases, sufferers need medical assistance, including psychological treatment.

A giant spider, for example, is a perceived threat, because while we do get some huge spiders in Australia, there hasn't been one in recorded history that is 8 feet tall.

A fear of spiders, also known as arachnophobia, is one of the most common phobias. Considering that we have the world's most venomous spider right here in Sydney - the Sydney Funnel-web - a fear of spiders is understandable to a degree, but unless you actively go lifting logs, poking around in bushes and sticking your fingers into 2-foot-deep holes small enough for a spider, I think you'll be okay. That said, being wary of spiders is smart, as some are venomous, but if you use half a can of bug spray or look for a box of matches to burn your home down, please seek help. In all seriousness, arachnophobia is very common and treatable, as are most phobias.

I personally experience the next three most common phobias - acrophobia (a fear of heights), aerophobia (a fear of flying), and astraphobia (a fear of thunder and lightning). Over time, my fear of flying on planes is getting better (although I still have rescue remedy on hand), and the fear that has plagued my life from childhood until only a few years ago - a fear of thunder and lightning - is thankfully all but gone. Shout out to Marvel and Chris Hemsworth. My fear of heights, however, is worse than when I was a child and affects me on a regular basis. Even watching a movie or video online involving heights makes my stomach do flips and I need to look away. My fear is a perfect example of a perceived fear or threat. It stopped me from visiting a number of landmarks and attractions in Japan recently - in some cases, even thinking about going to see these sights from a distance was too much. My fear of heights and flying is closely linked to basophobia, a fear of falling. The fear of falling is a natural fear, which we share with other mammals, like dogs, rats, cows, and cats. Depending on the situation, and the degree of extremity, it can be a real or perceived fear. Speaking of our furry little friends, cynophobia, or a fear of dogs, is in the top 10 list too.

The next phobia I want to touch on is mysophobia (also known as germophobia), a fear of germs, dirt, and other contaminants. This has always been a fairly common phobia but has increased 100-fold since the pandemic. In extreme cases, this phobia can be connected to, or even the cause, of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Having the need to wash your hands regularly, or not wanting to get dirt on your hands, is very common and is not a sign of mysophobia. Sufferers of mysophobia may wear gloves and masks at all times, scrub their hands with disinfectant or household cleaning products, avoid touching people in any way (especially their hands), and may use their clothes or a tissue to open doors. You can see how this would be a debilitating phobia and would affect daily activities.

Before I move on to how you can get help with your phobias, let's have a quick look at some unusual phobias:

  • Arachibutyrophobia (Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth - yuck)

  • Plutophobia (Fear of money, which must be extremely rare)

  • Xanthophobia (Fear of the colour yellow, which is oddly specific)

  • Ephebiphobia (Fear of adolescents - My Chemical Romance wrote a song about this... just kidding)

  • Linonophobia (Fear of string, including not being able to wear shoes with laces)

And finally, another of my own fears - Globophobia (Fear of balloons). I really hate balloons - I worry they are going to pop, and I don't like how they feel or smell. Yes, when I see a red balloon, I also think of Pennywise. Horrible things.

Treatment for phobias

There are a number of types of therapy that can be used to help treat phobias, but two of the most effective approaches are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy involves identifying and changing the negative thought patterns that contribute to the phobia.

  • Exposure therapy focuses on gradually and progressively exposing people to the source of their fear. Over time, people are able to learn to relax and the fear response begins to lessen.

Coping with phobias

In addition to getting professional treatment, there are other self-help strategies you can use to help find relief. Some techniques you might want to try include:

  • Deep breathing

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Gradually exposing yourself to your fear

  • Lowering caffeine intake

  • Meditation

  • Mindfulness practices

  • Yoga

You may also find it helpful to join a phobia support group where you can discuss resources and coping strategies with people who have had similar experiences. Check with local resources to see if there are any groups in your area or look online for available resources.

That is all for this month's blog. I hope you learned something, enjoyed it, and that it connected with you. If you do need help with a phobia or fears, please feel free to contact me. I am here to help. Until next time, please take care, and remember: "A problem shared, is a problem halved".

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