Fears, we all have them, and that’s normal. We even face our fears on a daily basis. A fear of getting in a car accident, but we still drive in a car on every day. A fear of spiders, but we still can kill a spider if we came across one. A fear of saying the wrong thing to our boss, professor, significant other, but still talk to them on a daily basis.
What if the fear was more? What if it stopped us from even engaging in specific situations because we were so afraid? What if even the thought or idea of what you fear gave you anxiety or a panic attack? These extreme fears may be known as a phobia.
A phobia, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a fear that is either excessive or irrational; an abnormal response to a fear where the danger has a slight chance of actually occurring; a fear that is irrational and overpowering.
The reactions experienced by someone with a phobia of a situation or object can be experienced physically or emotionally. These may include feelings of terror and panic, understanding that the fear goes beyond what the real risk of danger is, experiencing uncontrollable or automatic reactions that consume thoughts. As well as, experiencing physical reactions, such as shortness of breath, irresistible desire to get away from the situation or object as fast as possible, a fast heartbeat, trembling, and taking great precautions to avoid the situation or object that is greatly feared.
Specific phobia is the fear of a situation or object that is usually not harmful. These fears may include the fear of spiders, the fear of heights and being afraid of falling, the fear of closed in places and being afraid of being trapped, and the fear of any animal and that it will attack. A person may be diagnosed with specific phobia when the fear experienced affects the person’s daily life. Currently, the cause of specific phobia is unknown.
Social phobia is when a person experiences extreme anxiety, distress, and uneasiness related to the fear of humiliation and embarrassment by others when placed in a social situation. Social phobia may occur in situations that involve public speaking, eating in public, interacting with authority figures, and using restrooms in public. Currently, the cause of social phobia is unknown. This phobia is also diagnosed when it affects a person’s daily life.
Agoraphobia is when a person has a fear of being in a situation where a panic attack may occur, and leaving may be problematic for the person or humiliating. The fear is so intense that they tend to avoid the situations they are afraid of. Panic attacks are not uncommon with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia can include the fear of being in crowded places, being on a bridge, and being alone at home. This disorder may be caused by experiencing a panic attack or multiple panic attacks where the attacks are random, the trigger unknown, and the occurrence unpredictable. An individual may then fear situations in which they may experience a panic attack and avoid situations where prior panic attacks have been experienced.
The treatment of phobias may include cognitive-behavioral therapy and instruction on relaxation techniques to help decrease anxiety. There are currently no medications available to treat phobias; however, medication may also be used to help decrease anxiety.
If you have a phobia or think you may have a phobia, please seek professional help.
Alpers, G. W. (2009). Ambulatory assessment in panic disorder and specific phobia. Psychological Assessment, 21(4), 476-485. doi:10.1037/a0017489
American Psychiatric Association. (2009). Let’s Talk Facts About Phobias. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://www.healthyminds.org/Main Topic/Phobias.aspx Library/Brochure-Library/Lets-Talk-Facts–Text-Only-Phobias.aspx
Bienvenu, O., Onyike, C. U., Stein, M. B., Chen, L., Samuels, J., Nestadt, G., & Eaton, W. W. (2006). Agoraphobia in adults: Incidence and longitudinal relationship with panic. British Journal Of Psychiatry, 188(5), 432-438. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.105.010827
Yale Medical Group. (2012). Phobias. Yale Medical Group. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://www.yalemedicalgroup.org/stw/Page.asp?PageID=STW023372
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