Arachnaphobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, or the fears of spiders, heights, and tight spaces are some of the most common fears in America. But, have you ever heard of pogonophobia, escalaphobia, ephebiphobia, or fear of beards, fear of escalators, and fear of teenagers? Though it may sound ridiculous, having an uncommon fear is more relatable than you think.
According to John Hopkins University, around 19 million Americans have one or more phobias.
Both genetic and environmental factors can influence the manifestation of fear in one’s mind. Though negative first encounters, often occurring in childhood, are the most common cause of a growing fear.
“Stink Bugs. I have had this fear for quite a while,” says Charlotte Johnson, a senior at Franklin High School. “I had a traumatic experience where a stink bug flew on me and I freaked out. I know it’s absurd, but it’s scary.” Entomophobia, or the fear of insects, is quite common in the United States, with 25% of people in a survey conducted by Chapman University in 2016, indicating that they were “afraid,” or “very afraid” of insects.
This Chapman University survey also uncovered some other common fears Americans share. Though issues of crime, governmental dictatorship, and other reasonable worries were among the most responded-to concerns, those who were surveyed answered that they were afraid of ghosts, zombies, clowns, and volcanoes frequently enough for it to make an impact within the study.
In a Vox magazine article published in the same month and year as the Chapman survey, author Zachary Crockett concluded that “Americans are more afraid of clowns than climate change, terrorism, and…death.” He cited a poll conducted by Vox, in collaboration with Morning Consult, which found that “42% of Americans said they were [at the time in October 2016], in some capacity, afraid of clowns.”
Though it’s safe to say that the base comparison of a survey taken by 1,999 Americans can not conclude that such a majority of the population is fearful of clowns, Vox was not the only news publication reporting on the impact of “the great clown scare.” Due to a high number of “creepy clown” sightings circulating the internet, other media sources such as CNN, CBS, and NBC news also ended up doing coverage over Americans’ growing fear of clowns.
However, not all fears get so much air time. “I have an irrational fear of cotton balls,” says Bella Wayland-Vasquez, an alumni from the Franklin Class of 2019. “It started when I was 4 or 5 and I was folding a pair of velvet pants in the wrong direction. Later, my step mom had to use a cotton ball for something and it gave me the same feeling. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard, and it was the worst thing ever. From that moment on—I have not used a cotton ball.”
Though some can try to totally avoid their fear… and get away with it, sometimes it’s impossible, due to the nature of its commonality in everyday life. “I just prefer to act like cow’s milk doesn’t exist,” says proud milk hater Rachael Van Klompenberg. “I have a hard time watching people drink milk because all I can think about is it spoiling, and I get very paranoid about the small amounts of milk I use in cooking.”
Fear can grow into an all-consuming emotion, with the rush of cortisol causing your body to go into fight or flight mode. An article published by Harvard Medical School describes the “fight or flight response” as a survival mechanism, “enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.” This response commonly is activated by a perceived threat, with “freeze” and “fawn” being two other common responses. These responses occur frequently in everyday life, such as when your mind goes blank when you have to answer a question (freeze), or when someone confronts you angrily, and you become defensive (fight).
However, some react differently when encountering their fear, such as the case when Wayland-Vasquez’s friend filled her pillowcase with cotton balls as a practical joke and it made her feel “like there were a million needles going into [her] brain.” On the other hand, Wrigley Cook (11) describes the feeling of fear as “getting the heebie jeebies.” She continues to tell me that “she thinks about her nightmares of people with long nails slicing her open…a lot.”
As a person who has dealt with a variety of absurd fears throughout her life, I am highly qualified to speak on this matter.
I refused to go to America’s classic burger joint, Red Robin, mainly because of their souvenir: a bright red helium balloon. At the time of this fear, I had never heard of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’ or even heard of Pennywise the clown luring Georgie into the sewer with a Red Robin-esque balloon. Nope, I was more afraid of the loss of the balloon. What if it popped? What if it flew away? Balloons only conjured up the feeling of sadness to me so I avoided them at all cost.
The Blue Man Group still makes me shudder. Their glowing white eyes in contrast with their alien-esque skin makes my skin want to crawl.
However, the movie Cars, and more specifically, Lightning McQueen was the most frightening of them all. Though I don’t know exactly the reasoning behind this fear, I do know that my response was pure terror. I cried at the sight of that talking red car, and that is a memory that will stick with me forever. Luckily, most of these fears lessened with time, though The Blue Man Group still fills me with anxiety.
It’s October, which means it’s spooky season. Scares are everywhere. Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins aren’t the only thing that can get your nervous system going. And if on the off chance you develop an uncommon phobia, don’t worry, we’ve all been there.