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What is Ornithophobia? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for a Fear of Birds

Birds have struck fear into the hearts of people everywhere since at least 1963 when Alfred Hitchcock released his acclaimed horror-thriller The Birds. Have you seen it? Or does even the thought of a horror film about birds make your heart race, cause a stir of anxiety, or maybe even cause the first warning signs of a panic attack?

If you feel uneasy when a bird flies too close or flutters nearby, or if you avoid open spaces and city squares where birds might be encountered, you could suffer from ornithophobia: a fear of birds.

A fear of birds might be less discussed than that of heights or mice, but that makes it no less debilitating. Birds are everywhere, and when you live your life avoiding them it traps you in a small world of experience and activity. But fear not. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options can help you manage this phobia and lead a more comfortable life. When you overcome ornithophobia, you can spread your wings and fly.

What is Ornithophobia?

Ornithophobia, derived from the Greek words "ornithos" (bird) and "phobos" (fear), is an irrational fear or aversion towards birds. While it may seem trivial to some, for those experiencing ornithophobia, the fear can be overwhelming and disruptive to daily life.

We don’t know how many people around the world suffer from ornithophobia, but studies have shown that over one in ten Americans will experience a specific phobia in their lifetime, whether it’s the fear of public speaking, needles or ornithophobia itself.

Birds are a common theme in horror films and gothic literature. Hitchcock’s The Birds is just one point on a line running back to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, and on to contemporary horror movie tropes where a murder of cawing crows signals brooding danger.

We’re all a little scared of birds when they’re used in an eerie horror film, but discomfort or mild fear of birds doesn’t signal ornithophobia. For a fear to become a phobia, it must be severe and irrational. Let’s move on to look at the symptoms of ornithophobia.

Symptoms of Ornithophobia

Recognizing the symptoms of ornithophobia is the first step towards addressing the fear. If you’re paranoid about pigeons or frightened by fulmars, you might experience some of these common symptoms:

  • Intense anxiety or panic when encountering birds

  • Rapid heartbeat or palpitations

  • Sweating or trembling

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Feeling nauseous or dizzy

  • Persistent thoughts or nightmares about birds

  • Avoidance of places where birds are likely to be present

  • In extreme cases, full-blown panic attacks

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself and want to learn more, then try our free phobia test.

Causes of Ornithophobia

Unlike a fear of heights or potentially plague-infested rats, there’s no clear threat to human safety from birds. So why do some of us find them so terrifying? Understanding the root causes of ornithophobia can vary from person to person, but several factors may contribute to its development, including:

  • Negative experiences: Traumatic experiences involving birds, such as being attacked or startled by them during childhood, can trigger ornithophobia.

  • Learned behavior: Witnessing someone close exhibiting fear or anxiety towards birds can lead to the development of ornithophobia through observational learning.

  • Cultural influences: Cultural depictions of birds as symbols of danger or ominous omens in literature, movies, or folklore can contribute to the fear.

  • Evolutionary factors: Some theories suggest that the fear of birds may be rooted in evolutionary instincts, where humans instinctively perceive birds as potential threats due to their ability to fly and sharp beaks. Scientists have uncovered that phobias can be partially inherited genetically.

Treatment Options for Ornithophobia

A debilitating fear of birds can be paralysing. It might develop gradually over years until it controls your life and forces you to adapt your behavior. Don’t lose hope, however. Ornithophobia is a treatable condition, and several therapeutic approaches can help individuals overcome their fear:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach for treating phobias. It helps individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs about birds while gradually exposing them to birds in a controlled environment.

  • Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to birds in a safe and controlled manner, helping them desensitize to their fear over time. This can be done through visualization, virtual reality simulations, or real-life exposure with the guidance of a therapist.

  • oVRcome’s VRET: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: Our app-based programs cover a range of phobias. We combine self-guided CBT with virtual reality exposure therapy, to enable you to face your fears and learn coping strategies in the comfort of your own home. Rather than facing the real thing in the scary outdoor world, you can gradually increase your exposure through a personalized treatment plan that moves at a comfortable pace.

  • Medication: In some cases, medications such as anti-anxiety medications or beta-blockers may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of ornithophobia, particularly for those experiencing severe anxiety or panic attacks. However, medication only ever manages symptoms and doesn’t treat the root cause of your phobia.

  • Support Groups: Joining support groups or seeking support from friends and family members who understand and empathize with your fear can provide emotional support and encouragement throughout the treatment process.

Coping Strategies for Ornithophobia

In addition to seeking professional help, adopting coping strategies can also aid in managing ornithophobia on a day-to-day basis:

  • Relaxation Techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help individuals manage anxiety symptoms associated with ornithophobia.

  • Educate Yourself: Learning more about birds and understanding their behavior can help demystify them and reduce fear.

  • Set Realistic Goals: Take small steps towards confronting your fear of birds, gradually increasing exposure as you become more comfortable.

  • Practice Mindfulness: Stay present in the moment and focus on your surroundings rather than letting fearful thoughts consume you.

  • Seek Support: Contact friends, family, or a therapist for support and guidance: talking about your fears can make them more manageable.

  • Stay Positive: Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and remain optimistic about your ability to overcome ornithophobia.

Wrapping Up

For some, ornithophobia may be manageable: avoid wide open places, skip dinner on the terrace and whatever you do, don’t take your chips to the beach. But no matter how you’re dealing with a fear of birds, it’s negatively impacting your life and you’re missing out because of it.

With the right support and treatment, it is possible to challenge your fear of birds. Taking small steps into the world of virtual reality exposure therapy can have a huge impact on your fear response to specific triggers. With oVRcome, you can start in the safety and comfort of your own home. All you need to get started is a smartphone, and a desire to face your fears — so start today.

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