The curious case

...of panic buttons. Three readers share their bizarre phobias

By Reema Gehi

At her first job, Nivedita Lahiri had to report to work at 9.30 am every day, like any other professional. Only, Lahiri used to get there by 9 am so she had time to climb up the stairs to her office on the 22nd floor. The 24-year-old is mortally afraid of elevators. When she is job hunting, the floor at which the office is located is as important as the salary offered.

While all of us have certain fears, some others have to twist daily life out of shape because of what scares them. An official list of phobias throws up some bizarre ones. Try decidophobia (fear of making decisions), ebulliophobia (fear of bubbles), halitophobia (fear of bad breath) or phobophobia (fear of fears).

Unusual phobias, such as those of certain shapes, animals or insects, could be a result of role-modelling or classical conditioning. “Some phobias are learnt from family or someone the person has been living with since birth,” says clinical psychologist Salma Prabhu. “For example, if a parent fears elevators, (s)he may pass it on to the child by taking the stairs, child in tow, each time, and explaining the fear. Others are caused after an experience that triggers excessive fear in a sudden or unexpected situation.”

We chased down three readers who reveal the weird things that set them running. Listen in to what happens with these first person accounts from them.

DIVINA RIKHYE, 21, Budding photographer
I don't mind other species of birds, but I am terrified of crows and ravens; I start shivering at the very sight of them. I can’t seem to make a conversation around them. I go quiet, or start stuttering. At nine, I was eating a plate of fries by the poolside when a flock of crows swooped down and ate all my food. I remember screaming and running away. Another time, I was sitting by myself in the room, and a crow flew in and wouldn't go out. I went completely silent out of fear. That night, I dreamed about fighting that crow and twisting its beak. When I’m travelling and see crows, I duck. I know this isn't right to say, but I feel happy when I see a dead crow.

MUKTA LAD, 24, Copy-writer
When I was in school, I opened a forwarded email which contained an image of an optical illusion involving concentric circles. I just had to shut that window and push off from there, because I thought I’d die. I really can't explain what happened, except that concentric circles are one of the freakiest things I have ever seen. Thankfully, I don't run into them every day, but I have given up perfectly good dresses and stationery because I can't deal with these circles.

Polka dots are also the father of all things evil in the universe. I remember this TV commercial. The brand showed this animated graphic where multicoloured polka-dot ‘germs’ were wiped out by the soap. What followed was the mad rush to change the channel each time the ad aired. Spotting that graphic made me feel nauseous and made my hair stand on end.

NIVEDITA LAHIRI, 24, Advertising professional
I was 16 and in an elevator, when the chord snapped and the lift dropped down 11 floors before getting stuck between the first and the second floor. I fractured my ankle and sprained my back. Ever since that incident, which happened eight years ago, I only take the stairs. At my first job was on the 22nd floor and the second one, on 12th. Fortunately, my present office is situated on the third floor. While I rarely take the lift, when I do I ensure that somebody is there with me. But thoughts such as, ‘If something happens, who’ll save me? How will they save me?’ always come to my mind. Once in Dubai, my friends insisted on going to a nightclub located on the 62nd floor. When we got to the elevator, I started to howl. My friends made me have three tequila shots as distraction, and I had to be convinced by three staff members, who accompanied me in the lift. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.


The first symptom of phobia is when an individual gets a panic attack in a situation, which would evoke mild fear in others. It is followed by a feeling of dread, breathlessness, excessive shaking and sweating, a sudden increase in the heartbeat along with a very strong desire to be out of that situation immediately.

Those who suffer from phobias, avoid the fearful situation, and keep themselves away from overcoming it; and thus may never seek treatment.

Generally, those suffering from phobias also have other associated mental conditions such as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Post Traumatic Disorder, so a visit to the psychiatrist is essential.

Identifying and accepting that one has a phobia is the first step to overcoming them.

  • Guiding the person to a therapist is the essential, as (s)he would assess the intensity of the phobia with a checklist.

  • Treatment involves medication and psychotherapy with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which includes educating the patient regarding the phobia, helping him/her identify the triggers and the symptoms, and teaching relaxation techniques for behaviour modification.

  • Systematic method is used to let the patient experience the symptoms and teach him/her to experience relaxation and further go on increasing the intensity of the same. Helping patients overcome panic attacks through relaxation and medication are the steps to overcome phobias.

  • Accompanying positive affirmations, such as I am okay, I like to go in elevators, I love polka dots. Birds are beautiful, etc. also help.

Source: Mumbai Mirror

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