Fear, whether big or small, is an integral part of our lives.  However, the manner in which we deal with our fears, will define the impact it will have on our quality of life.


Let me guess – some people will start to count the number of letters in the word (18 letters) and some will reach for the dictionary.  The word means a fear of flying.  It would be easier to call a spade a spade.  In this instance, the spade would be a fear of flying.  Instead, someone deemed it wise to inject a tongue twister into our lexicon. I stumbled on a number of these tongue twisters as I checked out at what point a fear becomes a phobia.

Phobias are one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States and women are more likely to experience phobias than men.  Fear is an emotional response to a threat, either real or perceived.  A phobia is a response to something that is not a threat but the response is so intense that it can interfere with a person’s ability to function or perform daily tasks. Fear can be a good thing as it helps you avoid a potentially dangerous situation.  Phobias twist the normal fear response into something that is persistent and difficult to control.*

Phobias can range from a fear of colours and snow to a fear of rooms and even buttons.  For us, at the HLC, we might note that Bibliophobia is a fear of books and Arithmophobia is a fear of numbers.  At a less intense level, most of us fear something.  Some fear insects or dogs or the dark.  Other fear growing old or being lonely.

Like many people, I have my share of fears.  I intensely dislike small, enclosed spaces like elevators.  I’m fine with elevators I use regularly – they have proved their trustworthiness. In strange elevators, I look first for the Emergency button and my relief, when the door opens at the desired floor, is almost palpable.  My other great fear is icy patches on the road in winter.  When I come across one, I spend a good few minutes in contemplation – could I possibly leap over this patch?  The alternative is stepping on it and slipping all the way to the next intersection along with broken bones, bruised ego, self pity and a bucket of tears.  In nearly every case, I have turned around and tried to find a less treacherous route.  Luckily, this is a seasonal malady and I breathe freely the rest of the year.

In my 10 years at the Literacy Council, I discovered that the most common fear among students is not the inability to learn but the fear of being ridiculed.  This could be rooted in actual experiences of being laughed at in school by students or even teachers on account of not being able to read or write well.  Even as adults, they could have been ridiculed because they couldn’t speak well or fill a form correctly.  Many students have admitted that it took them months to gather up the courage to come to us.

I once read that a brave person is not one who is unafraid but rather someone who is afraid but has overcome that fear.  Bearing that definition in mind, I would say that our students are among the bravest people I know.

More information on phobias can be found at –


*National Institute of Mental Health