Living in Fear: A Close Look at People’s Phobias

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Photo by Sophie Opp

Chicago houses hundreds of buildings, some that tower over the rest of the city. Fear of heights is one of the most common phobias, affecting about five percent of the population.

As Halloween approaches, people across the country will flock to haunted houses and scary movies to get a thrill. While screaming at a slasher movie can be enjoyable for some, other people are terrified of everyday, seemingly normal, things. Crowds, heights and bugs are few of the countless phobias some may possess. 

It is estimated that about 19 million Americans have one or more phobias, according to Lisa Fritscher from Very Well Mind. Phobias can range from the conventional fear of spiders to the unexpected fear of holes. In the definition of phobia, the word “irrational” is notable. Those who possess these fears often feel like it is justifiable, even if it is harmless. Exploring personal phobias can be useful when learning about oneself and intriguing when learning about others.

Questioning how a phobia arises is usual. You may ask, did it stem from an impactful event from childhood, or did it appear out of nowhere? For some, there is a reason behind these terrors, for others there is none. RTI counselor Danielle Nowak offers a few explanations to this question. 

“Different anxieties can show up in different ways; having phobias is one type of anxiety that you can have. ‘Phobia’ is kind of a subset of an anxiety mental health diagnosis,” Nowak said. 

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States, so it makes sense that phobias are common. Assuming that not everyone with phobias has an anxiety disorder, there could be alternative causes. 

“It could come up for a bunch of different reasons, even from something they do not remember. It could be something they associate with another experience they had. From different therapies, they might be able to discover that,” Nowak said. 

Junior Payton Micka shares that she has an uncommon phobia. She is terrified of feet,  particularly when they are cold and uncovered. This is called Podophobia. She claims that her phobia does have a reason behind it. 

“When I was younger, my brother would literally harass me by touching me with his feet and the thought scares me,” Micka said. 

While it may not seem traumatizing to an outsider’s perspective, it was clearly enough to set off a long-lasting hatred for Micka. In regards to her daily life, she explains that it is not as bad as some would think. Around her family it is not an overwhelming problem, but when she is around others, she prefers everyone (including herself) to be wearing socks or shoes. 

“I can only wear sandals if my nails are painted and look presentable. I also tuck my toes under stuff when I have no socks on,” Micka said. 

For senior Ryan Rinella, birds are what makes his heart race. While many people dislike birds, in his case, only one kind of bird stands out. 

“I have a fear of geese. Specifically Canadian geese, the most common type to see around this area,” Rinella said.

Similar to Micka, Rinella also has an explanation for his phobia. He recalls a day in 2017 when he was at the Batavia Riverwalk playing the popular game Pokémon GO. There were geese on their path and after waddling away, Rinella understandably did not think anything of it. 

“A minute later, I heard massive steps stomping toward me. I had a heart attack thinking it was a goose coming back to me,” Rinella said. 

While the sound he heard turned out to be a jogger, Rinella was still affected enough to remain frightened every time geese are nearby. 

Again, like Micka, Rinella’s daily life is not affected to an immense degree, but still affected nonetheless. 

“If I ever want to go to a park or somewhere outdoors, I always have to drive by and see if there are any geese beforehand,” Rinella said. 

According to Nowak, our interests and fears tell us something about ourselves; what exactly it tells us, we are unsure. 

“There are a lot of layers to the mind. I think it is useful to be able to explore those kinds of feelings, especially if it is a feeling that is really intrusive in your life,” Nowak said. 

Depending on each individual, phobias can vary dramatically. However, one thing is for certain: millions of people face these powerful fears and there is a lot more to them than what is on the surface.