Facing Phobias

Castleton students and faculty reveal their anxiety felt from phobias of common objects, like cotton.
Sara Novenstern/Spartan Contributor

Junior Chelsea Burke says she has been petrified of them since she was a child.
“Ten years maybe…really since I can remember,” she said.
Using certain types of Q-tips, buying particular Advil bottles and asking doctors to use gauze instead to absorb the blood after a shot, have all become regular changes Burke has made in her life to compromise for her fear.
“I get anxious and nervous…just thinking about it in my head could make me throw up,” she said.
Her phobia?
Cotton balls.
According to the dictionary, a phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.
But Burke isn’t alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 10 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of phobia.
And Castleton College has plenty.
For sophomore Karsen Woods it’s birds. For sophomore Rosie Burke, it’s the sound of flushing toilets. Junior Josh Mannings hates snakes, and freshman Reba Miller can’t stand feet.
Faculty and staff members aren’t much different.
Administrative Assistant Shelby Phillips said being in crowds gives her anxiety, and Huden cashier Nancy Johnson is deathly afraid of frogs.
Psychology professor Terry Bergen tried to put it into perspective.
“A phobia involves two things … it involves thoughts, and it involves feelings. And what has happened with a phobia is that the feelings are so powerful that they overwhelm the thoughts.”
Bergen himself confessed to having his own phobia – of rum. It’s also known as Cibophobia, which is a fear of certain foods and drinks. It started in the Navy about 40 years ago, and has gotten better since.
“People get food phobias because they’ve had bad experiences with those foods, they’ve gotten sick. Almost invariably there’s some pain that has been associated with those foods and certainly rum led to illness on my part a couple of times, and so now I am phobic for rum, which is a good thing really.”
Junior Nate Marden has omphalophobia, the fear of belly buttons. Marden says his phobia started when he heard about a girl’s bellybutton piercing getting ripped out.
He also hates his own belly button being touched.
“I get sick to my stomach! And I don’t like touching other peoples either. They are gross,” he said. “And outies are really creepy.”
Marden may also have more of a biological reason to not like bellybuttons. Because his is exceptionally wide, it could be more sensitive to the touch than others, suggested Bergen.
Marden also confessed that his mother has the same fear.
Fortunately, there is a solution, said Bergen.
Standard therapy for phobias is called systematic desensitization, which is a behavioral therapy. It was invented by Joseph Wolpe in the 1950s and has been used ever since.
“It has come to be viewed as the most effective psychological intervention that has been developed so far,” said Bergen. It involves deep relaxation techniques and gets the patient to gradually become comfortable to their fear.  
  Burke hopes she will overcome her fear of fluffy, frightening cotton balls, especially because she is a nursing major.
“I can use gauze instead of cotton … in exam rooms there is a big container of cotton and I just try not to look at it,” said Burke.

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