Rational and irrational fears leave students to cope with intense anxiety and stress

January 22, 2020 — by Kaasha Minocha

In sophomore Nikhil Kapasi’s third-grade class, a giant spider with two large fangs crawled on his leg and bit him, leaving him quivering in fear. After the insect bit him, Kapasi screamed and hit his leg with a textbook extremely hard, and the spider crunched but didn’t die. Though the bite wasn’t venomous, it made his leg go numb and left two large holes in it. 

Kapasi’s  teacher had to help take the spider off his leg. It was a horrible experience, one that he would regard as “terrifying.”

Kapasi’s subsequent fear of spiders, called arachnophobia, was caused by this traumatic experience. Along with arachnophobia, he has trypophobia, a fear of clusters of small holes or bumps. He is among the 19.3 percent of adolescents in the U.S. who have a phobia — an irrational or rational fear of a situation, living creature, place or object that poses little to no danger, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. As reported by Medical News Today, phobias typically develop in young children around the ages of 4 to 8. About 19 million people have phobias in the U.S. alone.

Complex phobias, known to affect daily life more, such as agoraphobia (fear of places or situations) or social phobia (the fear of social interactions), are classified as anxiety disorders that are thought to have resulted from genetic makeup or traumatic experiences. 

Simpler, more specific phobias (like arachnophobia or claustrophobia) are not considered to be anxiety disorders but rather ongoing fears that are believed to be caused primarily by a negative experience, much like the one Kapasi faced.

While Kapasi said that he knows that his fears seem exaggerated, he cannot get over them.

“If someone left me in a room with a bunch of spiders or coral reefs, I’d be very uncomfortable and wouldn’t be able to sit still,” Kapasi said. “It would give me a lot of anxiety.” 

Although his fears have given him stress and anxiety, Kapasi said that they have lessened over the years. For example, he said that when he was younger, he used to “run and scream and throw things at spiders,” but now he does not get stressed and finds it easier to cope with smaller spiders. However, he still refuses to wear shorts, instead choosing pants that cover all of his legs because he was wearing shorts during his horrifying experience from third grade.

As for his fear of small holes, he says he does not know the root cause.

 Oftentimes, people can have irrational fears that are not related to an underlying event. 

Though he originally thought trypophobia was common, he realized after talking to his peers in middle school how rare it is. 

Oftentimes, Kapasi said he regrets telling people about his fear because they search up pictures of little holes on their phone and show it to him, trying to stir a reaction. 

Like most people with a phobia, he experiences feelings of panic and intense anxiety when exposed to his fears. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, common physical effects of being exposed to a phobia include sweating, an accelerated heartbeat, trembling and nausea. 

“I think that as you get more used to your fears, you often realize how irrational some of them are,” Kapasi said. 

Another student who fights a phobia is senior Ronak Pai, who has the common phobia of acrophobia (fear of heights).  

“My fear started when I was young,” Pai said. “I remember going on a hike to half-dome when I was eight years old, and I literally couldn’t go up because I got scared every time I looked down.” 

Pai said his phobia does not really affect him every day, but it does affect him when climbing up hills or a building. When he is at a height, he usually feels a sinking feeling in my chest, his heart starts beating rapidly, and he feels as if he can’t move.

For her part, sophomore Pooja Manapat has melissophobia, a fear of bees and other flying bugs. Manapat’s phobia developed when she saw her friend experience an allergic reaction that occurred after getting stung in elementary school. Now she fears that she will have the same reaction — hives and swelling of her throat.

“On a scale of one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, my fear is around a three,” Manapat said. “It’s a fairly common fear and doesn’t affect me too extremely in my daily life.” 

As for seeking treatment for phobias, Manapat said it might be appropriate in some cases.

“Phobias affect people’s lives more than specific fears as they can create ongoing distress for an individual,” Manapat said. “People should receive treatment if they feel it is necessary.”

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