Crisps, keyboards, pens​ – how do you treat an unusual phobia?

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Health Assured team

19 June 2017

When you are plagued by unusual fears, people’s reactions can be the hardest thing to bear. If a friend confided in you they had a fear of door handles or toenail clippings, would you laugh or sympathise? The instinctive reaction might be the former, but we can all get phobias of absolutely anything, and some can be debilitating. I have lived with my own fear of jewellery for as long as I can remember. If you were to place a metallic necklace or earring into my hands, it would send a shiver through my body, I’d feel instantly sick, have to throw the object away and wash my hands. The response from family, friends and colleagues has only ever been amusement or bemusement. I can live a normal life, despite consternation from some for not wearing a wedding ring, and have never got to the root cause. Phobias are described as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of something. They are more pronounced than just fears alone. A dislike of rats, for example, is pretty common. But if it extends to musophobia (a fear of mice or rats), then it can be life-changing. “One person called our helpline who was so scared of rats they couldn’t even say the word ‘rat’ itself,” explains Trilby Breckman, a development manager at the charity organisation Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK). “It was stopping her going out for fear of seeing one.” Breckman cites similar stories, including a teenager with a phobia of crisps who struggled at social occasions. Another woman had a phobia of bananas, which caused problems at work and meant she couldn’t go to the supermarket without panicking. But it was other people’s reactions that caused the most discomfort. Breckman says that when a close relative found out, “she posted a photo on Instagram of herself with a banana milkshake captioned: ‘Look what I’m having!’ Ahead of a family holiday, she sent another saying: ‘I’ve already bought my bikini,’ and it had bananas on it.” Unfortunately, these kinds of responses, particularly on social media, can be quite common. The internet can be a useful tool, such as with phobia forums where phobics can share their stories and experiences – but, equally, it opens up a world of unhelpful reactions.

The problem with phobias is that they often don’t make sense. Outsiders question why the sufferer is afraid of birdseed, camels, red paint or jewellery. I’ve been asked so many times: “How can you be afraid of jewellery? Followed by, “It’s not going to hurt you.” But they don’t realise it’s a different part of the brain, the subconscious, where we have patterns and responses around spiders or whatever the phobia might be, which are triggered and make us feel uncomfortable.

Excerpt from The Guardian, read the full article

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