College Essays On Phobias

A few years ago another academic and I were walking with a student (“Kiki”) who said that she always handed in essay assignments two weeks after they are due — the last day before she would receive a 0. Each time she lost 20% of the total possible points due to an automatic penalty of 2% per work day late. Over the long run she was ruining her chances of going on to postgraduate study. The other academic walking with us started to tell Kiki that the university had now extended the penalty period to three weeks with a maximum penalty of 30%, but I elbowed him right away and shook my head. I knew that if Kiki heard this news she would change to submitting three weeks late and suffer an extra 10% penalty. I knew that because I understand phobias, and Kiki had one — essay-writing phobia.

This phobia involves fear and avoidance of writing an assigned essay and/or submitting the essay. In addition to lateness penalties, the avoidance can lead to last-minute writing with its attendant stress, poor quality, and low marks. This phobia is more common than you might think.

What causes essay-writing phobia? The causes are similar for all types of phobias. The main factors likely to contribute here are genetic, biological predispositions to feel anxious, perfectionism in general, setting an unrealistically high goal for the essay, low self-efficacy for writing in general or for the specific essay, and low levels of self-control. Two other possible factors: Avoidance helps the person feel much better in the short run by reducing anxiety, and avoidance with frantic last-minute writing gives the person an ego-protecting excuse for earning a low mark.

So what is the way out of essay-writing phobia? I’ll suggest 10 strategies in order of value for most individuals:

1. Change your goal to something realistic and valuable, like doing your best under the circumstances or submitting on time or ending your avoidance. Put aside goals of being perfect and impressing the heck out of someone.

2. Gradually expose yourself to what you fear. Write the easiest part of the essay first — start with your name or the title. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Then write the next easiest part and so on, all the way to submitting. Praise yourself for courage at each step. Use my favorite definition of courage: Doing the right thing even tho scared. There is a great deal of research evidence that gradual exposure helps eliminate phobias.

3. Discuss your fears with someone who cares about your welfare or write in a journal about your fears. Bringing them out in the open will help you deal with them.

4. Calm yourself thru deep breathing, meditation, or some other means.

5. Focus on the task at hand — tell yourself what to do next on the assignment. Think that you are writing a draft that you will improve later, if necessary. Positive thoughts often lead to positive behavior.

6. Challenge self-defeating thoughts such as “Ï can’t do this” by thinking clearly about what “this” is and by looking for evidence from the past about whether you can do it.

7. Think of times you have written good essays and submitted on time.

8. Think of how you overcame some fear before in your life.

9. Think of individuals you admire who acted bravely.

10. Write while naked. This change of procedure might give you a new perspective, along with a anxiety-reducing chuckle.

Those are my thoughts. For a case study describing treatment of essay-writing phobia, see

What helps you reduce essay writing fear and avoidance?

John Malouff, PhD,
Associate Professor of Psychology

Do you suffer from a phobia?

Do you suffer from a phobia? :

A phobia is essentially a human being's irrational fear of something. It could be an object, an animal, a situation or an environment. Such fears are persistent, intense, excessive and unrealistic, which is primarily why phobias are deemed irrational. A clinically phobic person's reactions to what scares him/ her may seem extreme and the fright may not appear to be justified.

Types of phobias Phobias can be broadly classified into three groups depending upon the situation that brings on fear:

~ Social phobias:

Acute fears involving a host of social situations are collectively classified as social phobias. These fears are often mistaken for just shyness, but in fact involve a constant terror of public humiliation, self-consciousness and of being in the limelight. Someone suffering from a social phobia may either have social anxiety disorder or then react to a particular social trigger.

Such people often avoid social situations and become particularly uneasy when in the company of unknown people. Fear of public scrutiny may cause the person to avoid people to the extent of not eating in restaurants or using public restrooms. Social phobias seem to run in families. People who have been shy or solitary as children or who have a history of unhappy or negative social experiences in childhood, seem more likely to develop this disorder.

~ Specific phobias:

These are related to a specific object, animal or insect, people, environment or situation.

Presented here are a few common specific phobias:

Cynophobia: Fear of dogs or rabies

Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes

Batophobia: Fear of height

Tachophobia: Fear of speed

Claustrophobia: Fear of closed spaces

Coulrophobia: Fear of clowns

Latrophobia: Fear of doctors or of visiting the doctor

~ Agoraphobia: This is a generalised phobia individuals tend to have, of leaving home or a small, familiar comfort zone and of panic that might be brought on by making such a move. This is the only phobia that is treated as a medical condition.

Causes of phobias

Although the definite cause of phobias remains a mystery, these conditions are believed to be at least partly inherited and seem to run in the family. Specific phobias may develop from past experiences, especially in childhood. A bad experience with an object or situation is recorded in the brain by a substance called amygdale. The past encounter invokes fear in a person when faced with a similar situation in the future. Amygdale keeps track of memory and emotions and signals that something is dangerous.

Social phobias also seem to run in families. People who have been shy or solitary as children, or who have a history of unhappy or negative social experiences in childhood, seem more likely to develop this disorder.

Agoraphobia is brought about by similar causes. A person is likely to become phobic if he/ she has grown up seeing a parent or family member suffering from a phobia. Also, when parents are overcautious and exaggerate danger, children tend to become phobic. Phobias are a little more prevalent in women and very subjective. While some people have a natural tendency to be more cautious, others are bold and uninhibited. When cautiousness rises to the point of sheer panic, there is need for professional help.

Symptoms of phobias

The symptoms of a phobia can be severe and often cause an individual to be caught up in an embarrassing situation. A few of them are outlined here:

~ An individual suffering from a phobia experiences an unexplained, irrational fear of a specific element in his or her surroundings.

~ When the individual in question is suddenly faced with the trigger, he or she will immediately plunge into a state of panic. Severe anxiety may cause the person to escape such a situation at the first opportunity.

~ The individual knows that the fear is irrational, but is unable to control it. If he/ she is unable to run away from what is feared, he/ she undergoes great distress and trauma.

~ The individual's extreme behavior interferes with his/ her ability to function normally in any situation. In extreme cases, he/ she is unable to lead a normal life.

~ When the panic attack occurs, the individual is unable to control the fear. There is profuse sweating, palpitation, avoidance behavior, difficulty breathing, intense anxiety, trembling and hot flushes.

~ Besides irrational fear, the other symptoms of phobic neurosis are physical reactions like headaches, tension, back pain, dizziness and stomach upsets.

Diagnosis of phobias

If you feel that your anxiety is bordering on a phobia, seek professional help at the earliest. When fear begins to interfere with your work and daily routine and relationships, going to a psychiatrist is the only solution. In very few cases, the phobia goes away on its own without professional help. When you go to a psychiatrist, both a physical and psychological evaluation will be conducted. The physical exam can help rule out any physical causes of your anxiety. The psychological exam will tell about your family's history and whether other family members have had phobias. It will also tell the doctor about any experience or trauma that may have triggered the phobia. Then the mental health professional will ask you to explain your symptoms and when and how they occur.

One of the biggest problems with diagnosing a phobia is to distinguish it from other psychological disorders like schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and paranoia. As there are no laboratory tests for phobias, it makes them very difficult to diagnose.


Most people are able to overcome their phobias at some point or the other. The most common form of treatment is behavioral therapy.

The therapist gradually makes the patient face the object of fear. This is done slowly and tactfully. At the same time, the patient is made to relax. Relaxation techniques include relaxed breathing, muscle relaxation training, self-talk or soothing guided mental imagery. The two elements of fear and relaxation help the brain neutralize the fear and treat the phobic stimulus as any other object which doesn't induce fright. Sometimes, hypnosis is also used. For temporary relief, the doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety pills or anti-depressants too.

Prevention of phobias

There are no preventive measures one can take when it comes to phobias. However, it is advisable to reduce anxiety levels if you are naturally inclined to be nervous. To do this, avoid substances that make you high-strung -- these include tea (tannin), coffee and cola drinks (caffeine), cigarettes and other tobacco products (nicotine). To avoid children from becoming prone to phobias, never overemphasize danger. Keep the legendary boogeyman away. Scaring a child can have adverse effects on his/ her psyche.

Treatment of phobias is crucial. If left untreated, they can lead to other illnesses like other anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse. It is better to seek help when the problem is small. After all, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Do you suffer from a phobia?


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