Last week I mailed a jar of peanut butter to Steve Wright, the Radio 2 presenter.
Ordinarily, I’m not in the habit of emailing foodstuffs to famous people because I worry they’ll interpret it as the sort of character trait associated with a person who might later need to be the subject of a restraining order.
But in this case, the planets aligned, the fates conspired, and a peanut butter opportunity strode up the path to the door of my London clinic and knocked loudly upon it.
And why? Because the lovely Steve Wright just happened to mention the word arachibutyrophobia during one of his Factoid links. For those of you who don’t know what arachibutyrophobia is (and why would you, unless you suffer from it?), it’s the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.
Yes, really. But if you don’t believe me, I’ll wait whilst you go and look it up on Google.
The reason Steve Wright is probably enjoying his jar of M&S peanut butter as I write this article (only the best for presenters at the UK’s favourite radio station) is because that very same morning I’d been talking to a client about exactly that condition.
What are the odds? Well, the obvious answer, I suppose, is that they’re sufficiently long that I felt the need to mark the coincidence in some way. With my clinic literally around the corner in Harley Street, I guess I could have dropped the jar into New Broadcasting House in person, but there seemed less chance of ending up in a police station if I mailed it.
As ludicrous as the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth sounds, the serious fact about all phobias is that they are absolutely terrifying to those who have them. To most of us, peanut butter is something we might enjoy on toast or with some jam in a sandwich and it’s hard to imagine something so apparently innocuous triggering such an extreme reaction.
Yet there are estimated to be around 10 million people in the UK – a sixth of the population – who are living with a recognised and debilitating phobia.
They can be common – arachnophobia, agoraphobia, claustrophobia being some of the more well-known; and they can be rare – the aforementioned arachibutyrophobia, turophobia (fear of cheese) and, for the contemporary age, nomophobia (fear of being without mobile network coverage) being less so.
The point is that whilst some of the fears may make the majority of people smile, they’re actually an indication of your emotional health and so it’s important to treat them professionally, otherwise they simply continue to limit the freedom you have to live your life.
People with phobias modify their lifestyle in order to cope with their fear. The modification soon becomes ‘normal’, but as the fear takes root, so the coping behaviour becomes more and more extreme.
For example, people with agoraphobia cope by staying indoors, yet there are all manner of reasons why that’s bad for your emotional and mental health, an increasing tendency to social isolation not the least of them.
In hypnotherapy, we turn the phobia on its head, working to understand where the irrational fear has come from, why it’s taken root and what the impact is on your ability to live life in the way you really want to.
By doing that, and acknowledging the root cause of the problem, we can make the phobia a thing of the past, because in the end your irrational fear is just a symptom of something else. If we can fix the something else, we fix the symptom that goes with it.
Phobias take a crippling toll on the people who have them. Many believe it’s just something they have to live with, but they don’t. Like the majority of psychological problems, they are treatable – and the first step is finding someone you trust to work with you to that outcome.