Well Being

Worried About the Buzz? Dealing With Cicada Anxiety

Much of the eastern U.S. is about to experience one of the most fascinating natural phenomena in the animal world: the emergence of Brood X periodical cicadas. After living underground and feeding on tree sap for 17 years, billions of these insects are expected to emerge simultaneously around early May. And, as the amorous males sing loudly from trees in hopes of finding a mate, the sound will be impossible to miss. For many people, this natural event brings feelings ranging from mild distress to full-blown panic.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 5 to 12 percent of Americans have phobias, and around 7 to 9 percent of children have a specific phobia, such as Entomophobia ― a fear of insects. “Entomophobia is one of the most common phobias and involves intense fear,” says Diane Mushaben, MA, LPCC-S, a specialty treatment coordinator with TriHealth EAP.  “However, even those who do not experience this phobia of insects may find the sudden appearance of billions of cicadas alarming.”

Mushaben assures that the arrival of Brood X does not have to be a source of distress and offers the below tips for managing Cicada-related anxiety:

  • Recognize some anxiety is normal; large numbers of insects flying and singing loudly around us can cause anyone to feel a bit disoriented or overwhelmed.
  • Aim for a few minutes of deep-muscle relaxation and calming, deep breathing before you head outside.
  • Try not to focus excessively on the cicadas but remain mindfully focused on your daily tasks or activities.
  • Learn more about these fascinating creatures and their life cycle to help reduce your fears. Check out CicadaSafari.org for more information.
  • Don’t avoid normal activities like going to work or running errands. Avoidance will only increase anxiety.
  • Curtail outdoor activities near wooded areas and plan more activities in urban areas where cicada numbers will be much lower. Also, cicadas will not be found near beaches or large bodies of water.
  • Reframe your thoughts from “awfulizing” to more realistic judgments. Remind yourself that, while this event is unusual, these bugs are harmless, present only for a few weeks, and even kind of amazing! They don’t bite, sting, bring diseases or carry off small pets!
  • Have some fun with it: plan cicada-themed parties, events, costumes, drinks. Local bakeries already are making cakes that look like whimsical cicadas. Let yourself be silly and celebrate this once every 17 years phenomena.
  • Be prepared for the noise. The sound of cicadas’ singing can reach 80-100 decibels, similar to lawnmowers or motorcycles. For those with sensory processing issues, noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs might help.
  • Don’t try to eradicate them with pesticides, which isn’t feasible and could poison wildlife and pets who eat them.
  • Shift outdoor exercise routines closer to sunrise or sunset. Cicadas are most active in daytime and less so at these times. But keep exercising since it is helpful in managing anxiety!
  • Keep using these strategies every day; cicadas will be with us for six to eight weeks, and we won’t grow accustomed to them overnight.
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