Ornithophobia is the irrational fear of birds. Someone suffering from this condition may endure anxiety that is so intense and painstakingly intrusive that the mere thought of birds may immediately put them into a fight or flight state of mind, and in some extreme cases they may even experience full blown panic attacks as a result of it.
In most cases, birds are not very dangerous to humans in that they typically do not react in a hostile manner in the way that a shark or a stray dog might. For most of the time, birds are either uninterested in human endeavors or they are eager to accept any modicum amount of food that a person is willing to throw on the ground for them to eat. Be that as it may, someone suffering from full blown ornithophobia will not be able to rationalize their way out of their anxiety.
Societies fear of birds may have been greatly exacerbated thanks to the 1963 American horror film “The Birds“. In this film, characters frantically tried to protect themselves from a slew of unexpected and unexplained violent bird attacks over the course of a few days. The birds portrayed in this film were like nothing seen in nature as they appeared to be vicious hunters looking to claw, pick at, and fatally wound any human they could find.
This was a very horrifying film for 1963 standards and may have contributed to some people developing ornithophobia or to at least have a greater fear of birds than they did before watching the film. Though all of the blame cannot be put on the media’s fictional portrayal of birds as genetics and environmental factors are likely to play very important roles for someone developing ornithophobia as well.
Symptoms of Ornithophobia
Anxiety will be the main symptom experienced with someone suffering from an irrational fear of birds. In fact, their ornithophobia may be so extreme that they may have a panic attack which could require hospitalization insofar as it were necessary. Their fear of birds may also greatly alter their behavior in their day to day life. For example, someone with this condition may find it very difficult to leave their house or to go open areas like a park in fear that they may see a bird there.
Such isolation may make things much worse for them as their ornithophobia may eventually be accompanied by loneliness or depression. Their irrational fear of birds may cause their self-esteem to lower also as they may feel as though they are limited to where they can go and what they can do in their life. Be that as it may, they will still go through painstaking efforts to avoid birds as best they can.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of ornithophobia:
Anxiety when thinking of birds
Anxiety when seeing a bird
Avoiding open areas
Staying indoors often
Unable to cope with their anxiety
May experience panic attacks
Causes of Ornithophobia
As is the case with virtually all other phobias, there is no known cause of ornithophobia. Be that as it may, genetics and environmental factors are likely to play very significant roles in the development of any given mental disorder. For example, someone who has a family history of mental illness may have a higher chance of developing ornithophobia. This is especially the case if such a history includes anxiety disorders or even specific phobias such as the fear of birds.
Besides genetics, one’s environment may also play a pertinent role in the development of this disorder as well. For instance, if someone were to already have a genetic predisposition to developing mental illness due to having a family history of it, then it may only take them experiencing some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown ornithophobia. For example, a young child who was once attacked by a bird may eventually develop a full blown fear of birds insofar as the event was traumatizing enough and if they had the genetic predisposition for it to occur.
Though we do not definitively know what causes this disorder to develop in people, the consensus among most mental health professionals is that both genetics and one’s environment play very significant roles in the development of virtually any given mental disorder. So, taking a closer look at these two different parameters may reveal whether or not you may be at risk for developing ornithophobia.
Ornithophobia Treatments (abridged)
Exposure therapy is likely to be a very effective form of treatment for someone suffering from an irrational fear of birds. Just as the name implies, exposure therapy works by having the therapist gradually expose the patient to that which they fear over a given period of time. Though doing so will inevitably give the patient an influx of unwanted dread and worry, the goal with exposure therapy is to try and desensitize the patient to their fear by repetitively exposing them to it.
So, someone with an irrational fear of birds may have the therapist expose them to birds by first showing them a picture or a video of a bird. They may then gradually progress the amount of exposure insofar it is safe, effective, and necessary to do so. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to that which they fear, the less it will bother them over time. This may also be the case for people suffering from ornithophobia too.
Besides exposure therapy, anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants may be very effective at helping to reduce some of the symptoms of ornithophobia as well. Be that as it may, merely taking medication alone without any sort of therapy may not be very effective for long term treatment. However, this is something that you will want to first discuss with your doctor.
If you think you may be suffering from an irrational fear of birds or if you are experiencing from some of the symptoms of ornithophobia that have been described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Ornithophobia
CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with ornithophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.
CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with ornithophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with ornithophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.
Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with ornithophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Ornithophobia
MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from ornithophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with ornithophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.
Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of ornithophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Meditation for Ornithophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from ornithophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.
Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from ornithophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.
For someone with ornithophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.
To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of ornithophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.
Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with ornithophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Ornithophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as ornithophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with ornithophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.
The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with ornithophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their ornithophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with ornithophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.
Exercise for Ornithophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including ornithophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.
According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of ornithophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.
There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of ornithophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with ornithophobia over time.
Yoga for Ornithophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from ornithophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with ornithophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.
There are many different types of yoga that someone with ornithophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with ornithophobia.
If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of ornithophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Ornithophobia
It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with ornithophobia to experience panic attacks.
So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.
Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with ornithophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Ornithophobia
DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like ornithophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.
One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with ornithophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.
Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with ornithophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.
Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with ornithophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your ornithophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Ornithophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe ornithophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.
These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their ornithophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.
These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as ornithophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of ornithophobia.
These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of ornithophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.