Having grown up with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark, today’s college students learned at a young age all about having fears. While most have grown out of Stine’s popular series and have long forgotten about Are You Afraid of the Dark, they have not grown out of their phobias or forgotten about their fears.
“I’ve been afraid of spiders all my life,” sophomore Kimberly Chadbourne said. “I completely freak out and lose my mind when I see one.”
Freshman Daniel Shelnutt believes that his fear of bees and wasps outweighs Chadbourne’s eight-legged fear.
“You can step on a spider,” he said. “But all you can do with a bee is swat at it and miss.”
Shelnutt has feared bees and wasps for most of his life and he believes his fear stemmed from “the fact that they can fly faster than we can run.”
Shelnutt shares his fear with sophomore Amy Allen.
“I think it stemmed from that movie My Girl, where Macaulay Culkin got killed from that swarm of bees,” Allen said.
Dr. Larry Thompson, psychologist from the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute and instructor of mental health law and policy at USF explains the difference.
“Generally, the terms fear and phobia are used to address the extent of distress and disability that may result from this high state of arousal,” Thompson said. “I may become anxious when I fly, but the fear does not keep me from going. Therefore, it would not be considered a phobia.”
Both Allen and Chadbourne admit to having taken extreme measures to avoid getting involved with their feared creatures.
“Last week, actually, I was driving with my windows down and a huge wasp got in. I freaked out,” Allen said. “I couldn’t pull over, so I sped home and kept looking over my shoulder every five seconds in a cold sweat. I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself.”
Chadbourne declared that she had faced a similar situation.
“One time, I saw a spider in my car while I was driving on I-275. I almost crashed my car trying to get it out the window,” she said. “I had to get off at the nearest exit and stop at a gas station to get it out while I was having a panic attack.”
While both Allen and Chadbourne’s fears put them both in what could have become dangerous travel situations, it was because of a dangerous travel situation that freshman Kaitie Smalley’s fear developed.
“When I was 13, my family and I were on a small plane flying from North Carolina to Virginia. Before the pilot (had time to) tell us that there was rocky weather ahead, the plane got stuck in some crazy turbulence. The engine stopped, the lights went out and it got very quiet. The plane then started to nosedive. I thought it was over,” said Smalley. “The lights started to flicker, and we started to balance out. I swear we all kissed the ground when we got off the plane.”
Ever since, travel has never been the same for her.
“I can get on a plane,” she said. “But I will have a panic attack. Even when I’m at the airport picking up someone, I start to sweat and my heart beats faster.”
While it is obvious that Allen, Chadbourne, Shelnutt and Smalley each have fears, one may wonder at what point a fear turns into a phobia.
Whether someone is afraid of bees and wasps, spiders or airplanes, it should be good news to know that according to Thompson, “therapy for fears and phobias have been shown by research to be very effective.” he said.
“The approach to treatment or self-improvement is learning to relax both the body and mind. Thompson said, “Of course, we could drop the individual in a coffin filled with tarantulas, Fear Factor style. This implosive approach will result in overcoming the fear, if one does not die of a heart attack.”
Smalley welcomes any chance of getting over her fear of flying.
“I would love to get over my fear. It would make travel much easier,.” she said.
While Allen would probably not mind getting over her fear, she admits “to this day, I still haven’t been stung, and I plan to keep it that way.”
For those looking to get over fears and phobias, including test anxiety and a fear of public speaking, Thompson said “the USF counseling center is an excellent resource for students.”