Functioning with fears

They are the monsters in the closet. They are the shadows lurking behind the bushes. They are the thoughts that invade our mind and cause our hearts to beat faster. They are our fears, and whether they are rational or not, everyone has them.

“I’m really afraid of bees, things that fly, also roaches,” senior Jenny Sri said. “Once there was a huge bee in my Chinese class and I ran out of the room.”

A fear of a particular object or situation is known as a simple phobia. Sophomore Ellen Safran said she has an irrational fear of heights, called acrophobia.

“I’m scared to ski and I’m even too scared of going up the Washington Monument because I’m scared of falling,” Safran said.

It is not uncommon to feel like there is something wrong with you if you have fears, said Dr. Michael Hammond, a staff clinician at the University Counseling Center.

“Simple phobias are less heard about than general anxiety because people manage these simple fears through avoidance,” Hammond said. “For example, people who are afraid of heights don’t go to high places, therefore these fears are talked about less.”

Most students, especially freshmen, face general anxieties. Dealing with pressures of new roommates, a higher level of stress concerning academics and worries about leaving their families, are some issues that plague new students, Hammond said. This is not to say that other students do not experience anxieties.

“Many students come to us with concerns about declaring a major and what career to choose,” he said.

Anxiety is something people suffer alone, Hammond said. The anxiety gets stuck in the sufferer’s head and can spiral out of control.

“Did you ever lay in bed at night and think somebody is going to break into your house?” sophomore Abigail Kruchten said. “It’s sort of like creating my own fear and I can’t fall asleep.”

A fear can have many origins. Fears can be hereditary. They can also arise as a response to a traumatic event such as a sexual assault, Hammond said. Even hearing a story about rape could traumatize a student enough to lead to a fear.

“My biggest fear is of being raped,” sophomore Alicia Trider said. “It started when I was about eight years old and I learned what molestation meant. It was a big turning point; I can really remember it vividly.”

If phobias are not dealt with properly, they could spawn other fears.

Hammond said there are different ways to conquer fears.

“Many times we discuss the concerns in an effort to establish control over the fears,” Hammond said. “Anxiety is about a loss of control and we therefore try to reclaim the power or control.”

If the fear is interfering with daily activities, Hammond said he recommends a physical evaluation along with therapy.

The Counseling Center offers a Web site with advice and links to other sites regarding fears and phobias. Students can log onto the site to learn about anything from dieting to anxiety attacks.

Whether it is a fear of big dogs, the idea of change, ghosts in the basement or failing a big final exam or paper, students are not alone in their fears. The greatest way to conquer a fear is to talk about it, unless you have a fear of talking.

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