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What Is Ornithophobia? (An Overview) | HFNE

What is Ornithophobia? (An Overview)

Ornithophobia

In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment for Ornithophobia. 

Fear of Birds Phobia - Ornithophobia

Ornithophobia is the irrational fear of birds. It is a type of ‘animal’ specific phobia, which comes under anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when they encounter birds. 

Birds are not dangerous. They are unconcerned to humans. Unlike dogs, they cannot harm anyone. Thus, the fear of birds is irrational and the sufferers are unable to justify their fear. 

Some are fearful of predator birds such as, vultures, hawks and eagles. Others can suffer from anxiety even when they see pet birds, for example parrots. This depends on the severity of ones’ phobia. If the anxiety caused by Ornithophobia gets intense, one can also suffer from full-blow panic attacks. 

People who suffer from Ornithophobia try to avoid birds in order to minimize their anxiety. This avoidance, though can protect one from suffering anxiety or other physiological symptoms, they maintain ones’ fear. This is because the pleasant feelings avoidance produces assure the sufferer that birds are a potential threat and they are to be feared. 

These acts of avoidance can also lead to one suffering from Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the future, as these actions take the form of compulsions. 

According to the DSM-V, the anxiety Ornithophobia causes affects one’s social and occupational functioning. 

Because birds are found almost everywhere around us, therefore it is very difficult for the sufferer to leave his house. Mostly, they tend not to leave their house during the day because of the fear that they may encounter birds. Some don’t attend picnics or other outdoor activities because they feel vulnerable to being exposed to birds. 

In Ornithophobia, people may not even leave their house at all. In severe cases, one might not leave his house for any purpose, be it educational or job related because of birds. These people isolate themselves in their houses and avoid going out. They may develop agoraphobia as a result.

This self-isolation can also lead to depression.

Ornithophobia is the irrational fear of birds. One suffers from extreme anxiety when they encounter birds or are afraid that they might attack them. individuals are unable to rationalize their fear. 

Ornithophobia | I know that some of you don't like birds, In… | Flickr

Symptoms of Ornithophobia 

People with Ornithophobia, like in all other specific phobias experience intense anxiety on the site of birds. They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus, end up feeling more anxious. This anxiousness, in extreme cases can give rise to full-blown panic attacks. 

Not just the site, but the mere thought or picture of birds can instigate one’s symptoms of Ornithophobia. 

When the sufferer encounters a bird, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations. They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.

In the case of Ornithophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to birds (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation. Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.

According to the DSM-V, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and 3-5 symptoms out of the ones listed below:

  • Extreme anxiety upon an encounter with birds 
  • Extreme anxiety when thinking about birds 
  • Inability to control anxiety 
  • Repeated acts to avoid birds 
  • Full-blown panic attacks 
  • Increased heartrate 
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Tremors 
  • Sweating 
  • Nausea 
  • Feeling of dizziness 
  • Screaming/crying 
  • Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus). 
  • Migraine 
  • Upset stomach 
Ornithophobia, Fear of birds (IG: k0ella) : creepy | Creepy, Art ...

Causes of Ornithophobia 

Like every other specific phobia, Ornithophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience. 

Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Ornithophobia than someone who doesn’t. This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.  

Genes and neurotransmitters also play a significant role in this genetic predisposition. 

This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship. According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Ornithophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of birds.

Other than genetics, environmental factors such as a past traumatic event can also trigger symptoms of Ornithophobia. For example, a child might have been attacked by a bird and thus developed fear since then. Or he might’ve developed it because he saw his parents or someone else getting attacked by it.

Also, one might develop Ornithophobia because he has seen his parents getting afraid of birds, either because they also have Ornithophobia or when birds fly in to houses through open windows. This way children learn this act of fear from them and develop Ornithophobia. 

Media and what one sees also plays a role in developing this irrational fear of birds. One might have seen videos of or heard about incidents where birds get aggressive. Or they may have heard of the incidents where vultures can be a threat to human life. These all sets of data one collects can result in the development of Ornithophobia.  

What is Ornithophobia? (An Overview)

Treatment of Ornithophobia 

Ornithophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Ornithophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms. 

• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Ornithophobia is defined as the irrational fear of birds. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones. 

The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about seeing a bird. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts. 

The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for: 

i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.

ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.

iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought 

iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to        dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.

This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.  

• Exposure Therapy 

It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Ornithophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture or video of a bird for example. 

As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he comes across a bird in a garden, for example. During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.

 Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real birds, in a bird sanctuary, for example. 

While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.

Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes. 

However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of birds, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.

• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 

MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions. Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.

In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing. 

For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.

• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 

This is another effective therapy used to treat Ornithophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of ‘animal’ specific phobias. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group). 

            i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.

          ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.  For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense. 

         iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.

• Yoga/Meditation 

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Ornithophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.

Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about birds.

• Drug Therapy 

Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ornithophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken. 

This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation. 

Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:

                      i.  Antidepressant Drugs

These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.

                       i. Anti-anxiety Drugs

Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs. They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.

Whether the cause of Ornithophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).

Cute baby sparrow sitting in hand against green background. by ...

Titles to read 

  • Using Exposure Therapy to Treat Anxiety Problems: A step-by-step, clinical guide to using the exposure therapy procedure for six types of anxiety-related problems

by Clyde M. Feldman

  • Exposure Therapy for Treating Anxiety in Children and Adolescents: A Comprehensive Guide

by Veronica L. Raggi, Jessica G. Samson, et al

  • Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic

by Reneau Peurifoy

  • Face Your Fears: A Proven Plan to Beat Anxiety, Panic, Phobias, and Obsessions

by David Tolin

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1) What causes Ornithophobia? 

Ornithophobia is the fear of birds. One develops this fear because of a genetic predisposition-family history of phobias and or some environmental factor-past traumatic event. 

Q2) Is Ornithophobia common? 

Phobias are one of the most common anxiety disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 12% of the adult population in the United States experience specific phobias at least once in their lives. 

Q3) How can I get over my fear of birds? 

Consult a doctor for guidance. The doctor then treats Ornithophobia by the help of a number of therapies including Cognitive-behavioral therapy, DBT, exposure therapy. He may even prescribe medicinal drugs in order to maximize the effect of treatment. 

Q4) How many people in the world have Ornithophobia? 

Being an animal specific phobia, Ornithophobia is quite uncommon. Around 0.9% of the population of United States has it. 

Citations 

  • https://psychtimes.com/ornithophobia-fear-of-birds/
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/ornithophobia#causes
  • https://www.verywellmind.com/ornithophobia-2671874
  • https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-birds-phobia-ornithophobia/

What is Ornithophobia? (An Overview)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

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