Health & Wellness

Experts offer advice to those with entomophobia – or fear of insects – as cicada emergence begins

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The cicada emergence has begun in the Chicago area and the beady eyes and constant buzzing could prove too much for some people.

“The technical term is entomophobia, that is a phobia of insects,” said Dr. Avelina Padin, a licensed clinical psychologist at RUSH University Medical Center.

“Our brains are hardwired to be nervous about potentially potential threats, right, and that includes some insects. Thankfully, cicadas are harmless to humans. So when something transitions from being just your regular fear to a phobia, it's when that fear is starting to interfere with your life,” Padin said.

Padin recommended a few strategies to try if your fear factor is rising with the cicada emergence:

Paced Breathing

Paced breathing is “counting to four with your inhale and four with your exhale. This sounds very simple, but it sends a message to your brain that there's no threat. And in return, your brain will turn off that anxiety response and help you calm down,” Padin said.

Pay Attention to Your Inner Voice

“When we're nervous or anxious, we tend to overestimate how threatening something is, so we might be saying to ourselves, ‘Oh, it's gonna bite me. It's gonna sting me. So we want to check the facts. On that thinking, remind yourself, these are harmless,” Padin said.

Exposure Therapy

“The good news is there really are some excellent treatments for phobias that you can get professional assistance with,” Padin said. “We have something called exposure therapy. It works very quickly in just a few sessions. And that effect is long lasting, so it works really well."

As the name implies, exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy where a mental health expert creates a safe environment for you to confront your fear.

“The counselor would help you to do that at a pace that feels comfortable for you. So they meet you where you're at. It's not like they just throw you in the mix with the cicadas. You would start somewhere you feel comfortable and work your way up to that,” Padin said.

At the Morton Arboretum, Stephanie Adams is a plant heath care leader, who admits she used to be afraid of bugs, including cicadas.

“I kind of take the approach of, I know they do no harm. They're not going to harm or hurt me even, you know, in the long run or the short term. There's absolutely no harm at all,” Adams said.

Not only are they harmless, the broods will actually benefit the ecosystem.

“While they're underground, they're tilling up the soil and aerating the soil. And then once they die, they do decompose and they add minerals and nutrients back into the soil,” Adams said.

If you someone you love is afraid of the cicadas, Padin said it’s essential you don’t dismiss their fears, but encourage them to be brave, especially if they’re kids.

“So you can let your kids know it's normal and okay to be afraid of bugs and then you can support them in being brave, right? So you don't want your kiddos to rearrange their whole summer around this,” Padin said.

“You don't want them hanging out in the house and refusing to come out and live their lives. You want to encourage them to be brave. And if they can see that you can tolerate their anxiety, that goes a long way in helping them to manage and tolerate their own anxiety,” Padin said.

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