Paraskevidekatriaphobia (Fear Of Friday The 13Th)

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the medical terminology associated with a phobia of Friday the 13th. It may sound like a trivial and oddly specific condition, but it is a phobia which affects nearly 8% of the US population and can have serious and debilitating consequences for sufferers.

What is Paraskevidekatriaphobia?

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the name given to the irrational fear of Friday the 13th. People suffering from this condition will often be unable to leave their homes on Friday the 13th and are unlikely to schedule anything other than everyday tasks. In particular, long journeys, doctor’s appointments or interviews will be avoided or rearranged, as knowing that they were due to take place on Friday the 13th would cause insufferable anxiety and stress.

Many people who suffer from this condition will be completely aware that the fear is irrational, nevertheless, they will be unable to overcome their symptoms of panic and anxiety. In the lead up to Friday the 13th, the patient will be stressed, anxious and paranoid. The symptoms will usually peak on the day itself, with some people physically unable to leave their homes until the day is over. It can often take a while after Friday the 13th has passed before the symptoms die down completely.

Why is it called Paraskevidekatriaphobia?

Although in English the word sounds long and complicated, the Greek translation simply spells out the term’s meaning. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is a term which comprises three Greek words; paraskevi (Friday), dekatria (thirteen) and phobia (fear).

The phobia is sometimes known by another long name which is equally difficult to pronounce: friggatriskaidekaphobia. Friggatriskaidekaphobia is similar in its derivation, with ‘Frigg’ referring to the Nordic goddess of wisdom after whom we get the word Friday. Atriskaideka comes from the Greek words for three and 10, to make 13, and phobia is Greek for fear.

Although both words are used to describe the condition in English, Paraskevidekatriaphobia is used more frequently and is more widely recognized. It was first used in the 1990s by an American psychotherapist named Dr. Donald E. Dossey. Dossey was a specialist in the field of phobia psychology and did a great deal of research into the reasons behind people’s fears and the ways in which they could be treated effectively.

What are the causes of Paraskevidekatriaphobia?

Phobias are irrational fears, and therefore there isn’t always a direct and logical cause behind them. In the case of Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the phobia is more likely to be a product of societal and cultural superstition, rather than as an association with a particularly negative experience, however, this may well be the case for some people. The most common causes of Paraskevidekatriaphobia include:

  • An association of a bad memory or experience with this date
  • Historical superstition
  • Confirmation bias: expecting Friday the 13th to be a bad day each year, and then having your fear confirmed if something bad happens
  • Fear of the number 13
  • Fear of horror movies, TV shows and/or books

The number 13 has been thought of as an unlucky number in the Western world for centuries. There is a theory that the reason behind this is that 12 is often seen as a holy, complete or lucky number in many religious, mythical and historical texts. For example, Jesus had 12 disciples, there were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Gods of Olympus and 12 labors of Hercules. Not to mention the signs of the zodiac, the number of loaves in a dozen and the fact that 12 was used as a basis for both time and money for many centuries.

Thirteen, then, did not fit this pattern. Thirteen is one too many to fit into this neat picture of twelves, and this may have been the origins of its reputation as such an unlucky number.

As for Friday, this may have been seen as an unlucky day by Christians, as it could have been linked to a belief that Eve’s fall into temptation happened on Friday. The combination of these two unlucky elements, Friday and the number 13, may then have escalated the importance of this day in terms of superstitions and beliefs.

Today, we may be less influenced by the historical reasons behind the fear of Friday the 13th. Instead, modern and cultural influences are likely to play a much larger part in the fear of this date. Horror films, television shows and books often use Friday the 13th as a way to build tension, reinforcing the stereotype of this date being unlucky, cursed or doomed. It is not just horror movies, but also mainstream shows such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park which reference Friday the 13th as a date to be feared.

Symptoms of Paraskevidekatriaphobia

Phobias will affect different people in different ways. Some sufferers of Paraskevidekatriaphobia may not experience any physical symptoms, whereas others could experience most, if not all of the symptoms below.

The most common symptoms of the condition include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Stress
  • Hyperventilation and difficulty catching breath
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers or toes
  • Extremely fast heart rate
  • Panic attacks
  • Visions of death or dying
  • A compulsion to carry out ritual behaviors
  • Inability to leave the home on Friday the 13th

There is a spectrum of Paraskevidekatriaphobia sufferers. Some people might only experience mild symptoms, which cause inconvenience but do not interfere too much in the general course of their everyday lives. These people may avoid scheduling important events on Friday the 13th, but are unlikely to find themselves unable to leave the house at all. Those with a more severe phobia might experience panic attacks at the thought of Friday the 13th, and could quite easily find themselves unable to do anything at all on a Friday the 13th.

How to prevent Paraskevidekatriaphobia

It is difficult to prevent this phobia, as so many of the triggers and stimuli come from references in popular culture. Films, TV shows, books and music do not come with a warning to say that they contain references to Friday the 13th, so you are unlikely to know that the reference is coming up before it happens. There are, however, a few things which may be within your control which you can do to try to prevent the development or escalation of Paraskevidekatriaphobia. These include:

  • Treat Friday the 13th like any normal day
  • Actively plan appointments and events for this day
  • Avoid people or elements of popular culture which you know will reinforce the idea that Friday the 13th is something to be feared
  • Do not check calendars in advance to see when Friday the 13th will fall this year
  • Avoid hanging calendars in prominent places in your home

Can Paraskevidekatriaphobia be treated?

As with all other phobias, Paraskevidekatriaphobia is a condition which can be treated. The physiological symptoms (such as sweating, shaking, increased heart rate and hyperventilation) and the psychological symptoms (terror, anxiety, stress and panic) can be improved, if not cured, through various treatment methods. The most common forms of treatment include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • CBT
  • Medication
  • Support Groups

The first step towards curing your phobia is to make an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in phobia and phobic behavior. They will be able to diagnose your phobia officially and help to understand the severity of the symptoms and how they affect you as an individual. The same phobia will manifest itself differently in different people, and treatment plans must, therefore, be tailored to the individual in order to work effectively.

Desensitization Therapy

One of the most common forms of treatment for phobias is desensitization therapy. This is where patients are gradually exposed to the subject of their phobia, until they are no longer afraid, or can no longer associate it with fear. As Paraskevidekatriaphobia is a fear of something abstract rather than a tangible object, person or animal, desensitization therapy is not really an option.

CBT

One of the main ways of treating Paraskevidekatriaphobia is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a course of psychotherapy, in which a qualified psychologist or therapist will examine the reasons behind the fear and try to understand the behaviors which arise as a result.

Medication

In very severe cases, doctors may prescribe medication to help in the course of treatment. Antidepressants may be used, or beta-blockers, to prevent some of the physiological symptoms from occurring as a result of the phobia. These drugs work to slow down the heart rate and to reduce the production of adrenaline, which is one of the main physiological responses to fear.

Support groups

You’d be amazed just how many people suffer from this phobia, however strange or irrational it may sound. Some studies have shown that up to 8% of the American population suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia, which is a large proportion of US residents. With numbers being so high, it is therefore not too difficult to find support groups full of people suffering from the same phobia. Getting together with other sufferers can be helpful in terms of sharing coping strategies and discussing new and effective forms of treatment.