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Ornithophobia is an extreme and overwhelming fear of birds. It is a type of specific phobia that is less commonly diagnosed than other types of phobias. There are more than 400 different specific phobias and approximately 10 million people in the UK experience at least one type of phobia.
Today, we are going to look at ornithophobia in more detail, including the common causes, triggers, symptoms and treatments.
What is Ornithophobia?
Ornithophobia is an extreme, irrational and overwhelming fear of birds. Someone with ornithophobia will likely perceive birds as being scary or dangerous. They may experience intense fear, anxiety or panic if they see or touch a bird, hear sounds they associate with a bird, such as flapping wings or squawking, or smell something they associate with birds, such as bird droppings. Some people also feel fear and anxiety when they think or talk about birds or when they remember a previous encounter with birds.
A phobia can manifest in different ways. For example, you may experience negative thoughts and feelings, such as fear and anxiety in relation to:
- All birds.
- Only birds that can fly (e.g. not penguins or emus).
- Birds of prey, such as hawks, vultures and eagles.
- Birds that can be found in the home, such as parrots and budgies.
- Birds that are considered as pests, such as pigeons or seagulls.
- Birds that can talk, such as parrots.
- Only large birds.
- Only small birds.
- Birds’ feathers.
Someone with ornithophobia may have difficulties functioning or concentrating in certain places or situations because of the fear that they could unexpectedly encounter birds.
They could be consumed with the thought of birds and with constantly checking that there are no birds around them. The fear, anxiety and panic that they feel can have a significant impact on their mental and emotional well-being and their behaviour.
Someone with a phobia of birds may go to extreme lengths to prevent encounters with birds or even see birds from a distance. They may avoid certain places or situations to reduce the risk of them seeing birds. For example, they may avoid town squares, seaside locations and parks. However, because birds are so prevalent in the UK and there is a high chance of you encountering a bird outside, some people with ornithophobia experience fear, anxiety and panic that is so extreme that they are unable to leave their homes. They may even be unable to spend time in their own garden or look out of their windows in case they see a bird.
When someone with ornithophobia implements avoidance behaviours, they are usually designed to help them avoid birds, avoid their phobia being triggered and reduce the likelihood that they will experience negative thoughts and feelings and symptoms of their phobia. However, avoidance behaviours can actually have a paradoxical effect, meaning that instead of helping them to manage or reduce their symptoms, avoiding birds can actually have the opposite effect and instead reinforce their fear and result in more severe symptoms in the future. Avoidance behaviours can also have a negative impact on your social life, your relationships and your ability to perform everyday tasks.
However, a phobia of birds can occur on a spectrum, with some people experiencing more mild symptoms than others and some people finding that their phobia is less easily triggered, and they only feel fear and anxiety in relation to certain birds or certain situations.
Because a fear of birds can occur on a spectrum, not everyone who dislikes birds is experiencing a phobia. To be classed as ornithophobia, your fear of birds should include:
- Feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
- Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the true risk.
- A fear of birds that lasts for at least six months.
- Engaging in avoidance behaviours to prevent encounters with birds.
- A fear of birds that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.
Someone with ornithophobia can have several different fears related to birds:
The fear of germs:
Birds are often considered as dirty, particularly breeds such as pigeons. It is estimated that the UK has more than 18 million feral pigeons that are found in every city and town. People who dislike germs may worry about a bird’s ability to spread germs, particularly as they frequently land on food, outdoor furniture and even children’s play equipment. The fear of catching germs from a bird can result in a refusal to spend time outside, particularly in parks and town centres.
The fear of disease and illness:
Birds and bird droppings carry as many as 60 different diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. Birds can cause a variety of health issues that include respiratory diseases, yeast infections and inflammation of the nervous system. The most well-known disease that can transmit from birds to humans is avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu. Diseases and illnesses can spread from birds to humans through inhaling airborne particles, from a bird’s feathers or feather dust, dried bird faeces, mucous or saliva or even from eating an infected bird.
The fear of food poisoning:
Serious types of food poisoning, including salmonella and E. coli, are often found in birds. Humans can be exposed to this bacteria when they eat birds, such as chickens and turkeys. Bird droppings that land in food or water supplies or ventilators can also contain salmonellosis or E. coli and the bacteria can enter your system this way.
The fear of bird droppings:
A fear of bird poop can have multiple different bases. For example, it could be related to the fear of a bird’s droppings landing on you, which can not only be embarrassing and inconvenient but can also destroy clothing and belongings or result in a skin or eye infection. Many people consider bird droppings to be disgusting and being pooped on can cause feelings of panic, anxiety or embarrassment. Bird droppings also contain bacteria and diseases which can be dangerous if inhaled or consumed by accident.
The fear of birds flying:
Some people fear birds because they dislike the way that birds flap their wings and fly. Someone can be afraid of flying behaviour for multiple reasons, for example, they could be afraid of a bird flying into them or landing on them, they could dislike the unpredictability of flying movements, dislike the look and sound of birds travelling through the air or fear swarms of birds flying at the same time.
The fear of birds’ beaks and talons:
A fear of birds can be related to a fear of a bird pecking or scratching you. This could be connected to a previous negative encounter with a bird. It could also be related to the strength and sharpness of a bird’s beak and talons and the idea that birds such as vultures and buzzards consume dead human bodies.
Ornithophobia can be connected to and occur in conjunction with other phobias, such as:
- Aerozoophobia: An extreme fear of flying animals.
- Lepidopterophobia: An extreme fear of moths and butterflies.
- Pteronophobia: An extreme fear of feathers.
- Anatidaephobia: An extreme fear of ducks.
- Zoophobia: An extreme fear of animals.
How Common is Ornithophobia?
Ornithophobia is a type of animal phobia. However, it is officially classified as a specific phobia, meaning it is an enduring, overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, place or person; in this case, an extreme fear of birds. Because ornithophobia falls under the specific phobia umbrella, individual statistics aren’t available that indicate specifically how prevalent a phobia of birds is.
Although a fear of birds is not uncommon, ornithophobia is thought to be less common than other types of phobias. Because a fear of birds can occur on a spectrum, ranging from mild fear and anxiety to severe fear, panic and anxiety that can impact your day-to-day life, affect your decision-making and result in avoidance behaviours of certain places and situations, it can be difficult to determine how many people are experiencing a true phobia of birds.
Similarly to other specific phobias, such as equinophobia (an extreme fear of horses) and aerophobia (an extreme fear of flying), ornithophobia is thought to be underdiagnosed, with many people with this phobia never seeking or receiving a formal diagnosis or treatment.
There are multiple reasons why ornithophobia could be underdiagnosed, including:
- Ornithophobia is not a well-known phobia so someone may not realise they are experiencing a phobia.
- Someone with ornithophobia may not realise that effective treatment is available.
- They may not discuss their fear with others so may not realise their fear of birds is extreme.
- They may implement avoidance behaviours that reduce or eliminate their exposure to birds and seem to make their phobia more manageable.
- They may be aware that their fear is irrational and may be embarrassed or ashamed and try to hide their phobia.
Who is at Risk of Ornithophobia?
Although anyone can develop ornithophobia, there are particular risk factors that can increase the chance that you will develop a phobia of birds, including:
- Having a previous negative, scary or traumatic experience involving birds.
- Having a previous negative, scary or traumatic experience involving another flying animal.
- Having another related phobia, such as aerozoophobia or pteronophobia.
- Having another animal phobia or being scared of animals.
- Being exposed to the fear of birds during childhood or adolescence.
- Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with ornithophobia.
- Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with another phobia.
- Having a history of anxiety, depression, panic attacks or another relevant mental health disorder.
- Being a naturally more anxious or nervous person.
- Having little day-to-day contact with birds.
- Experiencing a significant life stressor, having higher than usual stress levels or being in a heightened mental state (particularly if you are exposed to a fear of birds or have a negative experience involving birds during this time).
- Having a substance misuse disorder, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
However, even if you have several of the above risk factors, that doesn’t mean you will definitely develop a phobia of birds. Some people with none of the above risk factors develop a phobia of birds, whereas someone with none of the above risk factors can develop ornithophobia.
How to Deal with Ornithophobia
There are multiple ways you can deal with your phobia of birds. Some people benefit from formal treatment options, whereas others implement successful coping and calming strategies that help them to deal with their phobia and manage their symptoms. Coping and calming strategies can be combined with lifestyle changes to help you to alleviate your symptoms and reduce the impact your phobia has on your day-to-day life and overall well-being.
By engaging in some strategies regularly over time, you can reduce the frequency and severity of your phobia symptoms long term and reduce the likelihood that encountering birds will trigger a negative reaction. You can also implement short-term strategies when faced with your triggers. Short-term strategies can minimise or prevent any physiological, psychological or behavioural symptoms by using short-term coping strategies and calming strategies.
Some long-term and short-term coping and calming strategies you can implement to help you deal with your ornithophobia include:
Desensitising yourself so that you are less triggered by birds can help to reduce the impact your phobia has on your everyday life and your well-being. Desensitisation should happen gradually to ensure you feel calm and safe throughout and are not overwhelmed. Some ways you can desensitise yourself are by talking about birds, holding feathers and viewing birds from a distance. Gradually desensitising yourself can help you to slowly reduce your fear response.
Learn about your fear
By understanding what initially caused your fear of birds and the situation surrounding it, you can gain a deeper understanding of your phobia. You can then deal with your fear’s root cause, as well as any negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours connected to it. By rationalising and understanding your phobia, you can reduce your automatic fear response, and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
Create a fear ladder
A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your fear of birds. It can also help you to identify which of your triggers creates more severe fear, anxiety and panic than others. When creating your fear ladder, you will organise your triggers from least severe to most severe. Because phobias are highly individualised, everyone’s fear ladder is different.
However, an example fear ladder is shown below:
1 = A bird flying close to you.
2 = Seeing a bird flying in the distance.
3 = A bird being in a cage or enclosure close to you.
4 = Touching a feather.
5 = Going to a park.
6 = Going to a zoo.
Once you have created your fear ladder, you can then confront your fears one at a time, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you to build up your tolerance of your triggers gradually and reduce your fear of birds long term.
Challenge negative thoughts and feelings
If you have ornithophobia, you may experience increased distress when thinking or talking about birds or recalling negative experiences involving birds. Whenever you find yourself doing this, try to disrupt and challenge any negative thoughts and memories to prevent your fear from escalating. Keep in mind that birds do not pose a threat to you and that your fear is unfounded. If you begin to experience symptoms of ornithophobia, remind yourself that the feelings will soon pass, that your fear is disproportionate and that birds don’t pose a threat to you.
Join a support group
Joining a support group allows you to connect with people who have experienced similar things as you and understand how you feel. The purpose of phobia support groups is to provide emotional support, education and the opportunity to discuss your fears without judgement. The tips you learn could also help reduce your symptoms and manage your fear of birds.
Avoid negative depictions of birds or negative superstitions
Being exposed to negative portrayals or stories about birds, whether in popular culture, on the news or via stories from other people, can validate and reinforce any negative connotations you have already associated with birds and any connected negative thoughts and feelings you have. Likewise, hearing superstitions about birds can result in you being hyperaware or paranoid that birds could be around you and could result in fear or panic if you see certain birds. This can exacerbate your phobia and result in more severe phobic symptoms. Try to avoid any triggering or negative stories or portrayals about birds to prevent your phobia from escalating.
In addition to treating anxiety disorders, mindfulness can also help treat phobias. By practising mindfulness, you learn how to focus your breathing and attention and reduce your chances of experiencing a panic attack when faced with your triggers. Mindfulness can also help you to manage stress and anxiety and explore the connection between mind and body as well as help you to manage the symptoms of your phobia.
Practise yoga or meditation
Yoga and meditation can be long-term strategies that can help you manage or reduce the impact your fear has on your life. They can help you to control your breathing and control your body’s automatic reaction to birds, helping you to feel calmer and in control. You should practise yoga and meditation on a daily basis to help you reduce the negative thoughts, feelings and reactions you may have in the future when faced with birds and help you improve your phobia’s symptoms over time and reduce the impact it has on your life.
Practise deep breathing exercises
Deep breathing exercises can effectively help you to deal with your phobia short term and long term. Deep breathing can effectively reduce your stress levels, relieve tension in your body, and reduce anxiety and panic. The act of deep breathing triggers your brain to relax and calm down. Practise deep breathing routinely (at least once a day) and implement the strategies you have learnt if you are faced with birds in the future.
Visualisation techniques can be utilised if you are faced with birds or another trigger in the future. You can alleviate your symptoms and prevent your fears from escalating if you visualise a place or memories that keep you calm or elicit positive emotions when you encounter a trigger or experience symptoms.
Implement lifestyle changes
Multiple lifestyle factors can worsen the symptoms of ornithophobia, including a poor sleep schedule and higher than usual stress levels. To reduce the impact your phobia has on your life, implement a successful sleep routine and try to alleviate any stress. Other lifestyle factors that can help you to manage your phobia are to try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and increase the amount of exercise you do. If there is a chance you could potentially encounter a trigger, avoiding caffeine, sugar and other stimulants can reduce the chance that your heart rate and blood pressure will rise and that the symptoms of your phobia will worsen.
What Triggers Ornithophobia?
There are many possible triggers for ornithophobia. Different people have different triggers, with some people only having one trigger and other people having multiple triggers. It could also be that your phobia is more easily triggered at certain times, compared to others. For example, if you are feeling more stressed than usual, you may find that your fear is more easily triggered.
Different people can experience different types of triggers depending on multiple factors, including what initially caused their phobia to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health.
The most common triggers of ornithophobia are:
- A bird flying close to you.
- Seeing a bird in close proximity to you.
- Seeing a bird in the distance.
- Seeing a flock of birds flying together.
- Hearing the flapping of a bird’s wings.
- Hearing a bird squawking, chirping, tweeting etc.
- Seeing feathers.
- Smelling something you associate with a bird, such as bird droppings or bird seed.
- Seeing a bird cage.
- Feeling a tickling sensation, similar to the feeling of feathers on your skin.
- Going to a restaurant that serves meat such as chicken or turkey or seeing someone eating bird meat (e.g. chicken wings).
- Seeing a bird’s nest or eggs.
- Being in a place where birds are typically found, such as a park, seafront or town centre.
- Seeing bird droppings.
- Going to a zoo or another place where animals such as birds are typically found.
- Watching a video or seeing a picture of birds.
- Thinking or talking about birds.
What are the Symptoms of Ornithophobia?
Because a phobia of birds can occur on a spectrum, the symptoms of ornithophobia can differ significantly from person to person, with some people experiencing significantly more severe symptoms than others. Different people experience varying severities of symptoms for various reasons, including the acuteness of their phobia, their triggers, their perceived risk and threat of danger and their current mental and emotional well-being.
The symptoms of ornithophobia can also differ in how frequently they occur and the way they manifest. The symptoms of a phobia can occur at any time, including when you encounter birds or another trigger or when you think or talk about birds.
Someone with ornithophobia may not experience all the symptoms on the list below. They may only experience some of the symptoms or may experience different types of symptoms at different times.
In more severe cases of ornithophobia, symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks and some people with a phobia do experience a panic attack when they encounter a bird. The symptoms of a phobia are often automatic and uncontrollable. It may feel like you are unable to control or manage your thoughts or feelings and that your phobia is taking over your body.
The symptoms of ornithophobia can be physiological (related to your body), psychological (related to your mind) and behavioural and can include:
- Overwhelming fear, anxiety or panic when faced with birds or when you encounter a trigger.
- Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the risks.
- Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are out of proportion to the risk.
- Feelings of embarrassment or shame because you know your fear is irrational.
- Feeling like you are in danger or having an impending sense of doom.
- Feeling like you are losing control or fearing losing control.
- Anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to a situation where you could encounter birds.
- An extreme feeling of dread or terror.
- Feeling immobilised by your fear or feeling like you are unable to move.
- Difficulties concentrating or functioning normally around birds or in triggering situations.
- Feeling defenceless or vulnerable.
- Experiencing frequent or distressing nightmares about birds.
- Uncontrollable shaking or trembling.
- Feelings of dizziness or light-headedness.
- Difficulties breathing, shortness of breath, hyperventilating or being unable to catch your breath.
- Heart palpitations, a faster heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding.
- Chest pain or a tightening in your chest.
- Increased blood pressure (hypertension).
- Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting or feeling like you have butterflies in your stomach.
- Unusual or excessive sweating or clamminess.
- A dry or sticky mouth.
- Feelings of confusion or disorientation.
- Feeling unusually tired or fatigued.
- Muscle tensions or stiff muscles.
- A choking sensation, difficulties swallowing or feeling like there is something stuck in your throat.
- A prickling sensation or pins and needles.
- Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
- Having a panic attack.
- Avoiding birds or any places or situations where you could encounter birds or other triggers.
- Being unable to eat or having a lack of appetite during or in the lead-up to triggering situations.
- Difficulties sleeping or insomnia in the lead-up to triggering situations.
- Refusing to leave your home in case you encounter birds.
- Refusal to think about or talk about birds.
- Refusing to watch a TV show or film that contains birds.
- Having the urge to run away or hide when faced with birds or other triggers.
- Becoming socially withdrawn.
- Refusing to look out of your window in case you see a bird.
What Causes Ornithophobia?
Phobias have multiple possible causes and the causes of ornithophobia can vary from person to person. For some people, their fear of birds has one clear cause, whereas for other people, multiple factors contributed to them developing a phobia. If your symptoms developed slowly over time or your fear developed a long time ago, you may be unable to pinpoint the root cause of your phobia.
Determining the root cause of your phobia and what initially caused the onset of your symptoms can be extremely beneficial, as it can help you to address your initial trigger or triggers and any negative patterns of thought or negative feelings that are attached to the original onset of your phobia. This can make it much easier to treat your phobia and manage your symptoms.
The causes of ornithophobia can be environmental, psychological or genetic. The most common causes of a phobia of birds are:
- A negative, traumatic or scary experience involving birds – Also known as a direct learning experience or traumatic conditioning, this is the most common cause of phobias. The negative experience may or may not have involved real danger or risk. However, as long as you experienced significant fear, distress or trauma, this can lead to the development of a phobia. There are many different types of experiences that could result in trauma, such as being attacked or feeling threatened by birds, having a bird fly into you or catching an illness from a bird. Following the traumatic experience, you may begin to have intrusive and negative thoughts or memories of the trauma and begin to avoid trauma-related triggers, for example, by avoiding places and situations where you could encounter birds. This can cause the fear or anxiety you felt at the time of the experience to linger or worsen and can lead to you developing a phobia.
- Having an allergy to birds or feathers – Someone who has an allergy to birds or feathers may develop ornithophobia because of the fear that being close to birds will cause an allergic reaction. If you have a severe allergy that could trigger anaphylaxis, birds could pose a serious risk to your health, and this could cause you to become fearful of being close to birds. You could also be likely to develop a phobia if you were taught about the dangers birds pose to you from an early age or if you were previously embarrassed by an allergic reaction to birds, for example, if contact with birds resulted in hives or puffy eyes.
- Fear rumination – Usually, fear rumination is triggered by negative or traumatic experiences involving birds. Repetitive and negative thought processes and the recapitulation of traumatic, frightening, negative or painful experiences involving birds can become increasingly disturbing and intrusive over time, making the experience seem more frightening than it was. Fear rumination reinforces your natural fear responses, creates additional anxiety and can result in you developing ornithophobia.
- A learned phobia – An observational learning experience can result in the development of a phobia because you observed another person’s fear of birds and learned to be afraid of them yourself. If you are exposed to phobias during childhood or adolescence, you are more likely to develop them yourself. A child who grows up with a parent or sibling who suffers from ornithophobia is more likely to develop the condition themselves. Adults can also develop learned phobias.
- Negative depictions of birds – Negative depictions, whether fictional or accurate, can result in you developing a fear of birds. These negative depictions can occur in popular culture, such as on a TV show or in a film, can be reported in the news or come from family or friends. Exposure to negative stories or depictions of birds can cause you to view birds as being disgusting, dangerous or scary and result in you feeling fear or anxiety when you are in contact with birds.
- Superstitions and cultural beliefs – There are many well-known negative superstitions about birds, for example, a bird that flies into your home foreshadows a death, a crow is an omen of bad news, illness or death, and seeing an owl during the day brings bad luck. The negative representations and the negative connotations people learn about birds can cause them to think of birds as being dangerous, evil, scary or bad luck. This can then develop into ornithophobia.
- An informational learning experience – You can develop ornithophobia if you are exposed to information about birds that makes you feel anxious or fearful. For example, learning information such as the bacteria and viruses that can spread from birds to humans, the number of wild birds in the UK or how many bird-related deaths occur every year can cause someone to develop a phobia of birds.
- Experiencing significant or higher than usual levels of stress – Stress can result in disproportionate fear reactions or an inability to handle intense situations. Having negative experiences with birds or being exposed to the fear of birds while under high levels of stress can make you more likely to develop phobias, such as ornithophobia. Experiencing the death of someone close to you can make you less able to manage your emotions and thought processes when experiencing grief, and this can result in a disproportionate fear response when you experience a stressful and distressing event.
How is Ornithophobia Diagnosed?
Many people who fear birds are unsure whether their fear is serious enough to qualify as a phobia. To establish whether you are experiencing ornithophobia, consider whether your fear of birds includes:
- Fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the actual risks.
- Fear that impacts your ability to function in your everyday life or in certain situations.
- Thoughts and feelings surrounding birds that negatively impact your quality of life, your mental health or your well-being.
- Symptoms that occur when faced with your triggers or when thinking about birds.
- Fear or anxiety that results in avoidance behaviours.
If you think you could be experiencing ornithophobia, your first step will be to visit your GP. Your GP will look at your symptoms in more detail and then likely refer you to a psychologist or phobia specialist. Both your GP and the psychologist will ask questions about your fear and the onset of your symptoms. For example, they will request more information about:
- The symptoms you experience, including what your symptoms are, how frequently they occur and how severe they are.
- The initial onset of your fear, including when your symptoms first began and what initially triggered your fear of birds.
- Your medical history, including whether you are currently or have previously had any anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias or other mental health conditions.
- Any medication or supplements you take (to ensure that your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source).
- Whether you have a family history of phobias.
- How much your fear interferes with your day-to-day life, your well-being and your behaviour.
To gather more information and ascertain whether you are experiencing a phobia of birds, the psychologist will conduct a phobia questionnaire and compare your symptoms to the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias.
To qualify as ornithophobia, your symptoms will need to correspond with the seven key criteria, listed below:
1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is exposed to birds or when they are not.
2. Exposure to birds or another trigger leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.
3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.
4. The individual avoids places or situations where they could be exposed to birds. If they are exposed to birds, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or distress.
5. The anticipation of encountering birds and the avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding birds can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.
6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.
7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.
If your symptoms fit the above criteria, you will receive a diagnosis of a specific phobia, specifically ornithophobia. Depending on the severity of your phobia, you may be offered treatment.
How is Ornithophobia Treated?
Once you have received a formal diagnosis of ornithophobia, you may then be offered treatment. Although there are multiple effective treatment options available, not everyone with ornithophobia requires treatment. If your symptoms are mild, don’t impact your daily life or well-being or you have already implemented successful coping strategies, treatment may not be required. However, you should always consult your doctor before making any decisions about treatment.
Many people with phobias find treatment to be extremely beneficial. If your fear is triggered frequently, your fear results in avoidance behaviours or your fear impacts your daily life or changes your behaviour, treatment will likely be recommended.
Because there are multiple treatment options available, your psychologist will create a personalised treatment plan that is designed to effectively treat the root cause of your phobia, your symptoms and any negative thought patterns, feelings and behaviours that are connected to your phobia.
Your treatment plan will be based on several factors, for example:
- The severity of your symptoms.
- The frequency of your symptoms.
- The root cause of your phobia.
- How significantly your phobia impacts your life.
- Your overall health and well-being, including your mental health.
The most common treatment options for ornithophobia are:
Also known as systematic desensitisation, exposure therapy involves being gradually exposed to your triggers in a safe and controlled environment. The sessions aim to desensitise you so that birds no longer trigger negative thoughts and feelings such as fear, anxiety or panic.
Exposure therapy will involve both visualising the fear and experiencing your triggers in real life. Initially, you will be exposed to triggers that create the least amount of anxiety, then, once you are comfortable with this level of exposure, you can move on to the next trigger.
For example, your exposure therapy sessions could involve:
1. Looking at pictures or watching videos of birds.
2. Talking about birds or recalling past memories involving birds.
3. Holding a bird feather.
4. Watching birds flying from a distance.
5. Being in the same room as a caged bird.
6. Being in an area where lots of birds are typically found (e.g. a park).
7. Stroking a bird.
With each exposure, you should experience progressively lower anxiety. You will gradually build up to the most anxiety-provoking situations, with the aim of being able to be close to birds without experiencing a negative response.
By creating realistic thoughts and beliefs surrounding birds, unlearning negative associations and patterns of thought, decreasing negative reactions and feelings towards birds long term, and learning relaxation techniques and coping and calming strategies, exposure therapy can help you to overcome your phobia.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):
CBT is a type of psychotherapy commonly known as talk therapy. It aims to help you identify and explore the underlying causes of your phobia and to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviours towards birds. Negative thoughts about birds are deconstructed into smaller fragments, which are then addressed individually, making them easier to manage and overcome.
CBT sessions will focus on the root cause of your phobia of birds and any existing negative thought patterns. Your negative reaction and psychological and physiological responses to birds and other triggers can be eliminated or reduced by this method.
CBT sessions can be conducted individually or as part of a group. During your sessions you will:
- Discuss your triggers and symptoms.
- Explore what initially caused your fear of birds.
- Explore your fears in more depth.
- Learn how to recognise your negative thoughts and change the way you are thinking.
- Learn coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements.
Clinical hypnotherapy utilises guided relaxation techniques and focused attention to help you overcome any negative thoughts and feelings you have about birds. The sessions aim to change your perception of birds by helping you to identify any negative thought patterns, memories, feelings or behaviours that could be contributing to your phobia.
The hypnotherapist will place you in a deeply relaxed state while you discuss your fear of birds to reduce any anxiety that may surround your triggers. You will also learn some calming strategies that can help you to manage and reduce your phobia symptoms more effectively.
Although medication can treat any underlying anxiety, it is not often used as a sole treatment for phobias. You may be offered medication if you experience any other mental health difficulties alongside your phobia, such as depression or panic attacks. In this situation, you will likely also be offered another form of treatment, such as CBT, alongside medication.
Some medication options that you could be offered include:
- Beta blockers.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Anti-anxiety medication.