Friday the 13th – Fear or Phobia?

HOUSTON (Feb. 11, 2009) – It's coming – Friday the 13th.  

Did you change a flight to steer clear of a potential problem? Or perhaps you moved a project deadline to avoid jinxing its success. Whether or not you're superstitious, it's safe to assume you'll dodge black cats and ladders on that dreaded day….just in case the urban legends are true. 

Friday the 13th is the only day people suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia – the morbid, irrational fear of the date. 

But are you just spooked or do you suffer from a bona fide phobia? 

“It's in our nature to do what other people in our environment do,” said Dr. Britta Ostermeyer, chief of psychiatry at Ben Taub General Hospital and the Harris County Hospital District. “If we see that other people are concerned about certain events, we tend to become concerned as well.” 

Fear is the normal response to genuine danger. Meanwhile a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder – a strong, excessive, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. 

“A phobia is a mental disorder that causes enormous anxiety and distress for a person,” Ostermeyer said. “It essentially interferes with a person's life – disturbing daily functions.” 

The American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education (APIRE) estimates 7.8 percent of American adults have phobias. They are the most common psychiatric illness among women of all ages and are the second most common illness among men older than 25. 

Phobias may cause a person to avoid common places, circumstances or objects, even though they logically know there isn't any danger. In fact, the person might even panic at the idea of coming in contact with the source of their phobia. 

According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute $800 million to $900 million is lost in business each Friday the 13th based on people who miss work or refuse to travel on that day. 

If a person suffers from any phobia – whether of Friday the 13th or of heights – Ostermeyer suggests seeking medical help when it interferes with daily activities. 

“Treatment for phobias can involve behavioral therapy, which entails systematic de-sensitization,” Ostermeyer said. “In therapy, patients will gradually confront their fear, until their anxiety is gone.” 

While some are dreading this Friday, Ostermeyer is looking forward to it. After all, 13 is her lucky number. 

“Whenever 13 came up for me, it has turned out well,” Ostermeyer said. “If you have a positive outlook, then, indeed, good things might happen.” 

So whether it's just a fear or actual paraskevidekatriaphobia, don't worry— there are only two more days this year March 13 and November 13 where you'll have to hide under the covers to avoid the dreaded day.

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