Credit: Dora Dziki

Phobophobia: the fear of fears

By Ananya Venkatesan and others

A look at fears, how to live with them, and how to overcome them.

The spooky month has arrived: ghouls, ghosts, devils, and evil pumpkins will be round every corner by its end. The real scare factor, though, generally isn’t Ross’ Spudnik costume. For many of us, our personal phobias trickle a far greater terror through us than anything remotely “Halloween-y”. Anxious flutters through the pit of your stomach, trickles of sweat wetting your brow, horrified shivers down your spine… is there anything worse than the feeling of all-encompassing fear? It can be an annoyance that you just learn to live with but would really love to get rid of, or a crippling terror that completely hinders your ability to function. No matter how bad it is or how it affects you, being afraid is not a nice feeling. So perhaps writing about your fear – no matter how deep-seeded or silly it might sound – may help others find solidarity in their stresses. Though remember: everyone’s experience of fear is different, and the ways in which they deal with it will be personal and unique to them.


Fear of being forgotten or ignored

Sharath Nambiar, Writer

I don’t remember my grandmother. I hear stories about her. About how much she loved me, about how she would massage my shoulders when I was a baby to make sure “I’d grow up to have a broad frame.” How she would always think I was too skinny and feed me everything I could ever want. How she talked about my future and how one day I would serve my community and make my family proud. I was eight years old when she died and I don’t remember her. I haven’t been able to remember her for years. Ever since then I can’t shake this dreadful feeling of complete nothingness. I understand that nothing is permanent but if I can’t even remember the woman who loved me more than anyone in the whole world, then what is the mind worth once everything comes to an end. People say memories are all you have when you grow old. I fear I will never have the bliss of reliving old loves and revisiting happy days when I am 80. I fear that I will simply forget. Forget the moments I once cherished. Forget those who loved me. Forget me.

“I fear I will never have the bliss of reliving old loves and revisiting happy days when I am 80.”


Fear of confined spaces

Radoslav Serafimov, Writer

I used to have a big cardboard box from an oven that I used to keep my toys in. This was when I was about five. One of my favourite pastimes was to dump all the toys out on the carpet and then climb into the box and close the lid on top of myself. It’d grow dark and cramped, my body barely managing to not poke out the top. And then the fear would set in. I’d feel the space constrict around me and the air grow hot and breathing would become hard and the darkness felt like it was sliding down my throat trying to drown me; even though I knew I was fine a deeper part of me knew it was dying and before I could stop myself my head would burst out the top of the box, gasping for fresh air. No matter how many times I did this, I never managed to overcome the claustrophobia. I don’t know why it held such a charm, being in that box. I just know that I still love the challenge of trying not to panic. Even though I lose every time.


Fear of dogs

Fuad Kehinde, Writer

I’ve been scared of dogs since I was young. Even now, whenever I see any puppy, my first instinct is to sprint. I don’t even know what I’m scared of when I look at even the most adorable puppy, but I can’t help it.  In my final years of high school, I decided that I didn’t want to be so scared anymore. One of my closest friends growing up had a dog called Coco. So I decided to spend much more time in his house and not move to a different room whenever Coco walked in. Gradually, I realised that Coco had no intention of eating me and that she was just really cute. Since then, I’ve reached the point where I don’t run in fear if a dog looks at me. I wouldn’t say that I’ve overcome my fear since my heart still pounds whenever I walk near a dog. I definitely still need to will myself to just keep walking and not run. But at least now I can pet a cute dog.


Fear of being disliked

Lucy Dunn, Editor in Chief

Overthinking, and taking personally, either the words or behaviour of others has always been a huge stumbling block for me. With the rise of platforms like Twitter and Instagram came more doubt: suddenly a larger group of people could see and judge what I was doing, and whilst posting behind the safety of a screen usually confers confidence, I still second-guessed everything I put up, wary of who I could inadvertently be offending or annoying. Dating apps were horrendous for this too, on stumbling across those people apparently oblivious to the unwritten rules of text-speak, leaving me penduluming between “surely they like me if they’re messaging” to “is that another full stop?!”

I don’t mean to sound like the most paranoid person in the world, but I think, given social media and the curating and pitching of self-image across these platforms, and the culture of relying on likes for validation – something that I hope is changing -, it can be really difficult to separate your identity from the opinions of others. To say I’m no longer concerned with what people think of me would be false, but I am getting – slowly – better at separating my perception of other peoples’ views of me from the way I view myself. A little constructive criticism can come in handy from time to time, but it’s not productive to analyse or convince yourself of other peoples’ negativity. As hard as it is in practice: if it’s not going to push you forward, let it go. 

“A little constructive criticism can come in handy from time to time, but it’s not productive to analyse or convince yourself of other peoples’ negativity.”


Fear of insects (here: Daddy long legs)

Hannah Mimiec, Writer

Tipulidae: aka. crane flies; aka. daddy long legs; aka. the thing that haunts my nightmares. The shadow of one bouncing around the kitchen walls, looking up in the shower to see one hovering above you… They’ve invaded my home and there’s no escaping them. 

I think it’s the legs that get me the most; no living thing should be able to support itself on something so spindly, in my opinion. The thought of them touching my skin genuinely makes me feel ill. And don’t get me started on the name. Have you ever had to shout “daddy long legs!” to get someone to help you remove a bug from a room? I have and I promise you: it’s really weird. 

The worst thing about it is that this is possibly the silliest fear to have. Crane flies have no venom and they can’t bite you. They’re completely harmless. Yet catching one out of the corner of my eye is enough to send me running from the room. At least it provides a good laugh for everyone else.


Fear of public speaking 

Hailie Pentleton, Editor-in-Chief

A common theme runs through my school report cards: Hailie is easily distracted and talks a lot… to herself. I was no stranger to having a yellow or red card brandished in my direction every time a teacher caught me getting a bit too chatty. In spite of my affinity with the spoken word, it was near impossible for me to stand up in front of a group of people and speak my mind, no matter how well I knew my audience or subject matter. I made it through the entirety of my high school career without having to talk my peers through the water cycle or defend my favourite book. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but the thought of presenting presented me with symptoms ranging from blurred vision to vomiting. Until 2019, I had accepted that I would just never be able to do it. 

Then I decided to run for student council. I’d had some pretty negative experiences as a disabled student at the University, and I wanted to do something about it. So I sent in my nomination form without a second thought, and when hustings came around, I had no choice but to speak to a room full of strangers about what I wanted to change about University culture. I was shaky and sweaty, and I don’t remember much of what I said. But I do remember coming to the realisation that if I wanted something enough, I would just have to get on with it. I’m not going to give a TedTalk anytime soon, but I’m less inclined to shy away from public speaking if it allows me to do the things that are important to me. 


Fear of vomiting

Jamie Salem-Dalgety, Features Editor

For years and years I had the biggest phobia of vomiting. When I was little, I had some really bad experiences with being sick (I still remember throwing up all over my parents’ van). However, after the age of six, I didn’t vomit once. I had all the memories of puking from a young child’s perspective and I dramatised how horrible the feeling was in my head, and as the years went on and on without me being sick, my fear of it only increased. It was so bad that at one point, I was too afraid to take swimming lessons because I was worried I’d be sick in the middle of the pool (silly, I know). After a while, I think I just forgot how to puke, and took on the proud rhyming statement of “Vomit-free since O-Three”. Then, one fateful Halloween night when I was 19, someone at a party handed me a shot glass necklace while I was holding a bottle of vodka. Needless to say, my streak was broken, and while it was rough, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I haven’t actually been sick since, but I am no longer afraid of it in the same way. Ironic that Halloween would help me get over my biggest fear. 


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