Happy Friday the 13th! Are you feeling anxious? While some people find this a reason to celebrate, others spend the day in a state of fear and anxiety; suffering from either Triskaidekaphobia (the fear or avoidance of the number 13) or Paraskevidekatriaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th).
If you are uncomfortable when Friday the 13th comes around, you’re not alone. Popular culture supports your discomfort around the number 13. Most buildings don’t have a 13th floor. There is no 13th row on airplanes, and the entertainment industry has capitalized on our anxiety by creating horror movies such as Friday the 13th. The effect is so wide-spread that businesses lose approximately $1 billion a year in sales as people chose not to do business on Friday the 13th.
At the end of the day, It’s a phobia.
Triskaidekaphobia and Paraskevidekatriaphobia are phobias. A phobia can be defined as “an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something or situations that pose little real danger, but provoke anxiety and avoidance”. Phobias are linked to anxiety disorders and the fight or flight response in the brain.
Common categories of specific phobias are:
- Situations: flying, enclosed spaces, going to certain locations (school, work)
- Nature: extreme weather, heights
- Animals or Insects: dogs, spiders
- Medical: body fluids, needles
- Others: loud noises, dolls, clowns, escalators.
Our mind and body knows.
When we’re under the influence of a phobia, we can experience a range of symptoms: intense fear, anxiety, panic, racing heart, sweating, breathing difficulties, dry mouth, upset stomach, dizziness or shaking; just to name a few. Not fun.
Reactions can range from mild to severe. In some cases, a phobia can get in the way of our daily routines and even redirect our path in life. For example, we may choose not to accept our dream job because it requires travel; and we’re afraid to fly.
Am I at Risk for Developing a Phobia?
Phobias can be developed at any time, and there are factors that make some people more susceptible than others.
- Age: Phobias usually first appear under the age of 10, though they can start anytime in our lives.
- Family History: Some phobias are like family heirlooms – passed down from one generation to the next–Women in my family have always been afraid of spiders. It’s not clear if this is genetic or learned behaviour.
- Temperment: Some people have developed a more sensitive “fight or flight” response that makes them more sensitive to negative events.
- Negative Experiences: I have a family member who was bitten by a small, white dog as a young child and has been afraid of small dogs ever since.
- Learning about Negative Experiences: We live in a world that is so inundated with news and social media that we are more aware than ever before of negative events either among our Facebook friends or world events. If we pay attention to all of it, the world can seem like a very scary place–I’m terrified of spiders after reading the Facebook post about the man in Australia that had to have his arm amputated after a spider bite!
When to Seek Help.
As with most things in life, It’s a matter of degree. If your phobia is something that can be managed in a healthy way and doesn’t affect your normal life, then you may choose not to look for support. However, if you are experiencing any of the following behaviours, please speak to a therapist or your doctor.
When we suffer from anxiety disorders, life can become smaller. Anxiety is an ‘avoidance’ disorder – we become so afraid of being anxious that we avoid the triggers. Eventually, our lives become an exercise of keeping ourselves safe. We stop seeing our friends or family members because we’ve become afraid to take the bus, go into crowds or even leave the house.
Increased Anxiety or Depression
If you feel that a phobia is beyond your control and is running your life, increased anxiety and depression can set in. If you are feeling that the anxiety/depression or your life isn?t going to get better, seek help.
Self-soothing with Addictive Substances
If you are attempting to ease the negative feelings that you are experiencing by using alcohol or drugs, this is not in your best interest. In fact, using drugs or alcohol to cope is complicating the issue by adding addiction to the mix. As it is very difficult to improve mental health challenges when an addiction is fully active, you would need to be able to manage the addiction before working on the phobia and resulting anxiety or depression.
Suicidal Actions or?Thoughts
Sometimes phobias can send us to such a dark place that suicide is seen as a way out. I cannot say strongly enough if you are feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency room. It is important that you are safe.
There are three recognized treatments for helping with phobias: Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and medication.
Exposure Therapy treats the avoidance behaviour by helping individuals to slowly become acclimatized to the phobic trigger.
For example; if my family member was undergoing Exposure Therapy for his fear of small dogs, a therapist would support him in his efforts to think about small dogs. Once this becomes comfortable, he would move on to looking at pictures of small dogs, followed by watching a live small dog, getting closer to a small dog, talking to a small dog all the way to petting a small dog.
My family member can move at his own pace, and stop when he reaches his goal. He may decide that being symptom-free when seeing a small dog in the park is enough and have no desire to ever touch a small dog.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT):
During CBT, the therapist helps the individual to explore their thoughts around the feared object, as well as develop alternative beliefs about the phobia and its effects on their life.
Depending on the severity of the effects of the phobia on an individual’s life, they may choose to use medication to lessen the mental and physical symptoms especially while they take part in the other therapies. If a phobia is situational and/or infrequent such as a fear of flying, short-term medication is often an option.
You don’t have to let a phobia take control of your life. It’s treatable. If possible, enjoy the day. For some people, Friday the 13th is very lucky!
Now, here’s some Exposure Therapy if you have a phobia about black cats.