If you just can’t shake the feeling that a duck may be watching you, this may be a sign of anatidaephobia.

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A phobia is a form of the diagnosis of “specific phobia,” characterized by intense fear or excessive worry about a specific object or situation.

Anatidaephobia, or as some call it “duck phobia,” is the fear of being watched by a duck. This phobia has gained online attention in recent years, but is it a prank or a legitimate phobia?

Can you really have a fear of ducks watching you?

Anatidaephobia is the fear that a duck may be watching you. The term comes from the Greek word “anatidae,” which means “swan, ducks, or geese,” and “phobos,” which means “fear.”

People who experience this phobia may not necessarily be worried that a duck might attack them. Instead, their fear centers around the idea that somewhere, a duck could be watching them — constantly.

Anatidaephobia may seem like it could be a credible phobia, but the fear of being constantly watched by a duck is actually a fictional phobia created for entertainment.

Specific phobias

While anatidaephobia isn’t recognized as an official disorder in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), its symptoms fall under the diagnostic criteria for “Specific Phobia: Animal type.”

A phobia is an irrational fear characterized by intense anxiety and worry that are disproportionate to the actual danger or threat the object or situation poses.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 12.5% of adults in the United States will experience some type of phobia at some point in their lives.

Ornithophobia

Ornithophobia, or the fear of birds, is an animal type of specific phobia. Some people with this type of phobia may fear all birds or just a specific type of bird, such as a duck.

Although anatidaephobia may not be real, the fear of ducks is a very real phobia.

Anatidaephobia can be traced back to Gary Larson, creator of the “The Far Side” comic.

Larson’s cartoon comic depicted a paranoid office worker with the caption, “Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.” The comic showed a duck looking out a window from another building behind the office.

The point of Larson’s cartoon was to illustrate that any object can be a source of fear. Since the fictional phobia debuted in 1988, anatidaephobia has gained popularity. This has led to the internet questioning the phobia’s veracity.

While anatidaephobia is indeed a hoax and not a real phobia, fears and phobias are no laughing matter. Phobias can have serious affects on a person’s daily life.

If you are living with a specific phobia, you might understand that your fears may be irrational or unfounded. However, phobias can still affect your everyday life.

Both physical and mental health symptoms can occur with phobias, including panic attacks and anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that phobias typically develop in childhood, with an average onset age of 7 years old. While childhood fears may disappear for some people, for others they can become phobias that continue through adulthood.

Common physical symptoms of a specific phobia can include:

  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • chills
  • shaking

For example, someone with ornithophobia (a fear of birds) may experience many of these physical symptoms when thinking about or seeing a bird.

Psychological symptoms of specific phobias can include a:

  • feeling of danger
  • feeling of the need to escape
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • sense of things being unreal

Some people may avoid situations where they might encounter their phobia. For example, if you have a specific phobia of geese, then you might avoid a park or lake where there may be geese.

There are several factors that can contribute to developing a specific phobia, including:

  • Genetics. Someone who has a family history of anxiety, phobias, or another mental health condition may have a higher chance of developing a specific phobia.
  • Temperament. Fear, shyness, or withdrawal in childhood can play a role in developing specific phobias as an adult.
  • Physical health conditions. Thyroid health concerns, heart arrhythmia, caffeine, or medication can produce or even aggravate anxiety.

While phobias can be distressing, treatment may be possible with the help of a doctor or therapist.

Treatment options often include a combination of approaches tailored to the individual. You may need to try several strategies before finding what works best for you.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach people with phobias different ways of thinking and reacting to fearful situations or objects.

Exposure therapy can also help individuals confront their fears by gradually exposing them to their triggers until their anxiety lessens.

Medication

Certain medications may be prescribed by your doctor to reduce anxiety, such as:

Medication can be especially helpful for situations when you may be around specific anxiety-producing objects or situations related to your phobia.

Stress-management techniques

In some cases, learning stress-management and calming techniques can help people manage anxiety related to phobias. Some stress-busting methods include:

Though humorous, anatidaephobia — the fear that a duck may be watching you — is not a real phobia or recognized mental health condition. Rather, this hoax phobia was created as satire in a 1988 comic by cartoonist Gary Larson.

While anatidaephobia isn’t real, the fear of ducks is a real phobia.

A specific phobia is a fairly common mental health condition that can cause intense fear and worry in addition to physical symptoms, like sweating and nausea.

Phobias commonly develop in childhood and may continue into adulthood. Factors that can contribute to phobias include:

  • past experiences
  • family history
  • temperament as a child
  • health conditions
  • underlying mental health conditions

If you think you have a specific phobia, you’re not alone. Phobias are treatable, and you can work with your doctor or therapist to design the best treatment plan for you.

Phobias can be treated with methods such as:

  • cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • prescribed medication
  • stress-management techniques

If you’re ready to seek help, visit Psych Central’s guide to mental health help.