Spring has arrived, and with it comes a special event for many people living on the East Coast: A brood of 17-year cicadas is scheduled to arise from the ground.
Millions of these large, noisy insects will begin to crawl out from the soil around mid-May, and with them come increased panic and anxiety, especially for those suffering from an insect phobia.
Maturing for the past 17 years, the cicadas dig their way up out of the earth, wriggle out of their shells, take flight, and look for mates when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
The bugs don’t bite, stick, or attack, and they are mostly harmless to plants, too. But their daylong 90-decibel buzz, along with their large bodies, red eyes, and inept flying contribute to a range of reactions from wonder and amazement to disgust to all-out fear and dread.
Like other specific phobias, a phobia of insects is characterized by an irrational, involuntary fear reaction that is inappropriate to the object, place, or situation. It usually leads to avoiding a particular situation that poses no real threat of danger. Heightened anxiety, even a panic attack, may result when people encounter the object of their phobias. Those with a phobia recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, but they are unable to control it. They anticipate the feared object — such as a huge number of cicadas — with alarm.
Many people who have a phobia of insects in general may have learned to work around this fear. But the cicada invasion might be their ultimate nightmare because they fear they can’t escape the unpredictability and intensity of these particular insects. However, one good outcome of the cicada appearance is that people who have previously avoided gardening, camping, and other outdoors activities may decide that this is the time to get treatment. It’s challenging, but it may be a necessary impetus.
More than 19 million (8.7 percent) of adults in the U.S. have a specific phobia. The vast majority can be helped with professional care. Many people work through their phobias with a mental health professional to help them face their fears and develop coping strategies.
If you suffer from a phobia, you can get treatment to prevent it from affecting your everyday life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)  is effective, and it usually includes weekly treatment and outside homework assignments. A therapist helps you understand incorrect assumptions and then gradually exposes you to your phobia source.