Almost everyone has a phobia or two, if even a minor one. Whether mild or severe, phobias are a form of anxiety or outright fear of a specific thing or situation. One of the most non-drug related treatments for phobia is “exposure therapy,” a gradual de-sensitizing of your fear coupled with relaxation techniques. Here are seven of the most common phobias, and places in Montana where you may well discover that you have conquered your phobia forever.
1. Acrophobia: Fear of heights
Montana is not the best place for acrophobes. It has many stretches of mountain ranges, peaks and cliffs begging to be hiked or climbed to enjoy the wide vistas and experience the beauty of the great outdoors. But there is one scramble-up which terminates at a death-defying summit with a 4000’ or so drop straight down toward beautiful, blue water, enough to give the “willies” to even the most accomplished trekkers. Mt. Siyeh is one of eight summits in Glacier National Park over 10,000 feet, but the easiest to access, and if you can stand on the edge overlooking Cracker Lake you are most definitely no longer acrophobic.
2. Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes.
There are 10 distinct snake species in Montana, but to add a bit of surety and excitement to one’s effort to de-sensitize this particular fear we recommend Phillips County, where prairie rattlesnakes far outnumber people. Take a nice walk in the grasslands in mid-July, but do watch where you step, and of course listen for that helpful warning, which tells you that maybe you are a little too close to your psychological nemesis. Rattlers have a brownish or greenish cast and can be anywhere from 15-60 inches in size. You will almost always hear them before seeing them. Once you find that you can breathe easy, and that your heart is no longer piston-firing you can be congratulated on overcoming this fear. By the way, the closest ER is on 8th Ave in Malta.
3. Cynophobia: Fear of dogs.
This exposure therapy can literally occur anywhere in Montana. The Treasure State has the second highest percentage of household dog ownership in the United States (Idaho is slightly higher). So yes, you can probably walk next door to get a good barking, but for total immersion we suggest one of the many fine dog parks in the state. You can find about 18 of these in Missoula and Bozeman alone. At any dog park you will be sniffed, yapped at, jumped on and even, on occasion, nipped right through your pricey jeans. We get that this is a “total immersion” approach, but if this doesn’t work as a cure, you will just have to become a mailman.
4. Social Phobia: Fear of social events or occasions
Shyness is not uncommon. Most people have at least experienced it on occasion, though its extreme version occurs regularly, often accompanied by blushing, stammering, sweating or even nausea when in normal social settings. Panic attacks often ensue, giving way to social anxiety disorder. Not fun.
We recommend as the cure several evenings in one of Montana’s craft breweries where you can either loosen your lips with a tall, cold one or, if you are a non-drinker, be secure in the fact that those around you may well be a little light-headed, and likely not even noticing your abject fear of their presence. As with dogs, Montana ranks second (per capita) in the nation for craft breweries, about 80 in total. Like dog parks it won’t be difficult to find one. Unlike dog parks it is unlikely that you will be sniffed, but quite probable that you will be yapped-at until you have completely forgotten what it was you were afraid of.
5. Agoraphobia: Fear of open space
Agoraphobia comes from the Greek, meaning fear of the marketplace, or places where people assemble. It is also widely known as fear of open space which, as you can imagine, is a bit of a problem if you are in a place called “Big Sky Country.” Agoraphobes often remain housebound, as this fear is also closely related to social phobia, which adds elements like farmer markets, fests, festivities and hayrides in open country.
This is a tough one to treat in Montana, though our suggestion would be to visit the top of the Beartooth Highway at 2 a.m. on a clear summer night for a startling view of the Milky Way. Though counter-intuitive, unless you suffer from nyctophobia (fear of the dark), your night-time adventure will shield you from the vastness of Montana’s high country while taking in a far greater expanse of starry heavens, unencumbered by the threat of man-made light, and unaccompanied by the distraction of other human beings (remember, it IS 2 a.m.). Just be sure to get back down before dawn, or you may well find yourself cowering in a crevasse.
6. Chionophobia: Fear of snow
Pretty much wherever you go in Montana you will have to deal with this fear. Snow ranges from annual averages of twenty to three-hundred inches across the state. A close relative of cryophobia (fear of the cold), this aversion is often solved by people fleeing south toward Mexico or boxing themselves in a hot sauna for a temporary respite. If you truly want to deal with this phobia, we suggest a late spring saunter for a short distance along Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park. You can go as far as you are able until the snow or park service brings you to a halt. If you find yourself panicked or hyper-ventilating you can quickly return to snowless and warmer climes to ease your acclimation. Repeat until cured.
7. Zoophobia: Fear of animals
If you tolerate annoying or nasty people better than animals you may suffer from zoophobia. Unfortunately for you, Montana has a veritable “Noah’s Ark” of fauna, ranging from dwarf shrews to 1500-pound grizzly bears. Even indoors you may well encounter pocket mice, bats, or a nervy lion which has found its way to your porch for a bit of R&R. Our cure here is to visit Animals of Montana outside Bozeman, accessible only by appointment, and only at certain times of the year. Here you will enjoy a (somewhat) safe experience, enduring close encounters with uncaged critters bred primarily for movies and tv commercials. A free-ranging grizzly bear, wolves, bobcat, mountain lion, and even an oddly non-native tiger are yours for observation (please, no petting!). If this doesn’t cure you, we recommend a trip to Botswana.