One of the most common conditions treated by psychologists is anxiety. It generally involves feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease associated with a sense of uncertainty about the outcome of a situation. While it’s common for people to feel nervous or fearful about a variety of circumstances in their lives, when these feelings interfere with one’s daily functioning, it’s recommended to find a psychotherapist that can help with treatment.
There are many different kinds of anxiety diagnoses, but those that receive a disproportionate amount of attention, particularly in the media are specific phobias. One such phobia is thought to be anatidaephobia.
What is Anatidaephobia?
While there are many credible and crippling specific phobias, due to their irrational and intriguing nature, people have come up with a lot of outlandish and non-credible specific phobias to entertain the public. Among these non-credible specific phobias is anatidaephobia, or the irrational fear that a person is being watched by a duck.
While to some, this may sound as legitimate a phobia as coulrophobia (fear of clowns), it is actually a fictional phobia that was made up for a cartoon comic by Gary Larson in his cartoon series, The Far Side. It then picked up interest when a writer named Tammy Duffey wrote a satirical article regarding the symptoms and treatment of anatidaephobia which was accompanied by an ad for Aflac, an insurance company that has a duck “watching over” its customers.
This humorous article lead the internet world to question this phobia’s accuracy and led to a lot of debates about its origin. However, it is indeed a fake phobia. Anatidaephobia has now become a satirical phobia that is joked about in videos and threads on social media networks but has no scientific or medical support for being an actual mental health disorder.
Specific phobias are described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) as conditions in which there is an excessive and irrational fear of a specified object or situation. The DSM-5 categorizes specific phobias into 5 types:
- Animal phobias – dogs, snakes, spiders, etc.
- Natural environment phobias – thunder storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.
- Blood-injection-injury phobias – seeing blood, getting medical treatment involving blood, witnessing medical procedures, etc.
- Situational phobias – elevators, flying, small spaces, etc.
- Other phobias – fears of contracting an illness, fear of choking, fear of human-like figures, etc.
Many well-researched specific phobias fall under these categories and are considered to be credible due to their prevalence. Those diagnosed with these phobias meet the following criteria:
- Having a persistent, irrational fear
- Exposure to the feared item/situation leads to an extreme anxiety response (panic attack, screaming, freezing, etc.)
- Recognizing that the fear is irrational
- They avoid the feared stimuli
- The avoidance of this fear impacts a person’s daily life and overall functioning
- Fear lasts more than 6 months
- These fears do not directly come from another mental health diagnosis
Final Thoughts on Anatidaephobia
While this article makes light of a fictional disorder to provide some laughs and possibly dispel misconceptions held by the misinformed, specific phobias are real. They can be medically diagnosed and involve intense treatment. People seek to address these fears so they can live their lives comfortably, without limiting themselves and having to avoid normal activities.
Specific phobias are generally treated with psychotherapy, often specifically with exposure therapy, a modality designed to gradually expose people to the stimulus of which they are afraid. This helps them overcome irrational fear and rewire their brains to decrease anxious responses so they can tolerate the stimulus. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a real phobia, seek out help from a mental health professional.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Anxiety disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm05
- Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). Specific Phobias. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from https://www.med.upenn.edu/ctsa/phobias_symptoms.html