Friday the 13th looms, threatening us with bad luck of all stripes (or so we've been made to believe).
Some will claim their behaviour is due to a phobia — and a mouthful of one at that. Referred to as paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia (depending whom you ask), it is simply an irrational fear of Friday the 13th, and nothing else.
"This 'phobia' rarely comes to medical attention," says Franklin Schneier, MD, co-director of the Columbia University Anxiety Disorders Clinic. He adds that referring to a fear of Friday the 13th as a "phobia" may be a misnomer, since phobias are usually grounded in something other than a superstition. A phobia of the ocean, for example, is borne out of the understanding that the ocean really is a dangerous place. But, Dr. Schneier says, "people with superstitions often believe in them strongly and may have little interest in investing effort in trying to be dissuaded of their belief."
For what it's worth, it has been suggested that people who identify as paraskavedekatriaphobes may have actually had a truly terrible day that happened to be on a Friday on the 13th of the month and have linked that date to misfortune ever since.)
As far as treatment goes, highly specific phobias can be somewhat easily dealt with, because their triggers are easily avoided. If you're afraid of clowns, for example, you don't have to go see It or go to the circus. It's much more difficult — some might say impossible — to avoid a date.
Luckily, one of the most widely supported forms of treatment for phobias allows one to take their time. Behavioural exposure therapy involves a phobia sufferer gradually being exposed to the source of their fear until it loses its perceived threat. Dr. Schneier recommends that paraskavedekatriaphobes spend tomorrow going about their lives as usual and even try taking a few risks, just to prove to themselves that they don't have a target on their backs due to the date.
"They could compare the outcome to how successful their day would have been if spent it hiding under the covers," Dr. Schneier says. After all, who wants to waste a whole Friday?
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