A phobia is an anxiety disorder which is characterised by a persistent and excessive fear of a specific object or situation, in which the fear can get out of proportion in response to the trigger for the same. One such phobia is Triskaidekaphobia, which can be characterised as extreme or irrational fear of the number 13.
“Driving its roots from the superstitions found within our culture and traditions, it is extremely uncommon to have a hotel, or an apartment have a 13th floor, regardless of the fact that the tower or building does extend beyond 13 floors. Be it a date, a house number, or even the digit in itself, triskaidekaphobia can become an extremely pervasive phobia, at times becoming an obsessive tendency interfering with an individual’s overall functioning,” explains Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
For any phobia, the anxiety typically leads to intense distress in the presence of the trigger, as well as in anticipation of being encountered with the same. As a consequence, says Dr Parikh, the individual tends to develop an avoidance of such situations, places, people, dates, etc. which could have anything to do with the number 13, and consequently could find themselves indulging in ‘safety behaviours’, being constantly on the lookout for the number 13 in an effort to avoid it.
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“However, the socio-cultural context behind such a fear needs to be understood. Though the etiological factors are similar for all specific phobias, triskaidekaphobia in itself has a major component of observational or vicarious learning being a determining factor. This means that an individual who has been nurtured or grown up in an environment where 13 has been given significance, is more likely to develop the phobia,” he says. However, it must be noted that there are multiple contributing factors which have been found to interact towards the development of such phobias, including an interaction between genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors.
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For a family member of an individual suffering from a phobia it is important to understand that they are treatable, and professional help is irreplaceable. It is important that the person suffering is not ridiculed for a lack of confidence and courage; at the same time, excessive reassurance seeking in itself could be a safety behaviour which should not be encouraged. In fact, the family members and friends need to be educated and informed of the underlying basis for the phobia for them to encourage a supportive environment for the earliest identification and adequate psychiatric and psychological intervention.
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It is important to understand the role of professional treatment, including a combination of medications as well as psychological approaches in reducing the symptoms of anxiety disorders, including triskaidekaphobia. Aiming at providing relaxation techniques, such approaches also help the individual boost his/her confidence and self-esteem and encourage the person to face the anxiety provoking situations associated with the number 13, to reduce the amount of time spent ruminating about the number, as well as to reduce safety behaviour.
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