By Jen Taylor, LCSW-C
Maryland is described as an epicenter for the 2021 cicada invasion with billions set to emerge very soon. For many people, the thought of billions of insects coming up from the ground is creating a tremendous amount of anxiety.
Entomophobia – the fear of insects – is quite common and is often one of the most highly ranked fears (next to public speaking and heights). Along with specific phobias, like the fear of the cicadas, people also develop anxiety over the unknown. We use our experiences with past events to help us predict the safety that we can expect to have in the future. And because the cicadas only brood every 17 years, many people (including myself) have never experienced this event before. We don’t know what exactly to expect and the stories that we have heard from people who have experienced it before might be unpleasant or even scary. So, the common fear of bugs combined with a natural anxiety response from the unknown is making a lot of people feel a sense of dread.
Here are some ways to manage the anxiety that you might be experiencing as you prepare for the cicada invasion:
- Make the unknown known. Learn a few things about the cicadas that you can repeat to yourself often. When it comes to learning new material that feels scary to you, it can help to do it in this order: read it first, then listen, and then watch it. You have less sensory input from material that you are reading than material that you are watching. Learn that the cicadas will not bite you, they will not harm your animals and they will be mostly gone by the end of June.
- Try systematic desensitization. This involves exposing yourself to the thing that you are afraid of in small doses. You might start by looking at a photograph of a cicada, or even just drawing a simple sketch on a piece of paper and practicing regulated breathing (that means you inhale for the same number of seconds as the exhale). Then, maybe listen to a recording of the noises that they are going to make (it’s going to be loud like a lawnmower). You can start by listening at a lower volume and increase it over time or try listening in-between two pieces of music that you really love. For example, your favorite song, cicada sounds, another favorite song to help associate the noise with something more positive. Next, you might search YouTube and watch a video showing the cicadas coming up from the ground or just being outside. Again, practice regulated breathing and practice saying those safety facts that you learned (the cicadas will not bite me, they are harmless).
- Change the narrative. When you tell a story often enough, it becomes true. So, even by saying things like, “I am scared to death of bugs,” you are reinforcing your fear. Practice changing the narrative and saying things like, “I am tolerating bugs more” or “I am learning to be calm around cicadas.” These positive statements will help your brain practice feeling more confident and calmer.
- Do something with your hands. When people are anxious, they often find that doing something with their hands calms them down. You might find that keeping busy with a knitting project, cleaning, doing a puzzle or coloring activity indoors will help manage your anxiety. And when you leave the house during cicada season, carrying a worry stone, a silk scarf, or another small fidget object (like a stress ball) to focus on during that time will help you manage your anxiety.
- Reframe the experience. You can focus on the unique scientific wonder that this event really is. Imagine if there were a trillion butterflies descending on our area – that feels much more amazing, right? Or, if a trillion fireflies were going to light up the sky for a month. These events are amazing parts of our natural world (even weird looking cicadas) and becoming curious about them helps reframe the experience. Express a tiny bit of gratitude even for being in this unique position to witness something that only happens every 17 years in certain parts of the world.
And, if you are having significant distress or inability to cope in your daily life, you can access JCS therapy services by calling 410-466-9200.
Jen Taylor, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.