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What are phobias? Types, symptoms, causes and treatment options

  • Posted on- Jan 16, 2016
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A phobia can be defined as an aberrant and intense fear of an object or situation that poses little or no actual danger. Usually, a phobia is considered similar to a normal fear, but it is the extent to which a person is affected, that determines whether that fear has become a phobia. The most common fears or phobias that people usually suffer from include heights, darkness, snakes, insects, closed-in places, etc.

Though your phobia can be an irrational fear for others, a single thought of that object or situation can actually make you anxious, and if in case you are exposed to that situation, the terror is automatic and overwhelming. The experience can be so scary or nerve-wracking, that you may go to any extent of avoiding it, and would eventually end up changing your lifestyle too.

For example, if you have claustrophobia, you might turn down a good job offer, if you have to ride the elevator to reach the office. Again, if you have a phobia of heights, you might drive an extra 25 miles to avoid climbing a tall bridge.

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may not experience any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia. However, in some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can make a person feel anxious or panicky. This is known as anticipatory anxiety. Symptoms may include:

Different types of phobias

There are a wide variety of objects or situations that someone could develop a phobia about. However, phobias can be divided into two main categories:

Specific or simple phobias

Specific or simple phobias centre on a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older. Common examples of simple phobias include:
  • Animal phobias - such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents
  • Environmental phobias - such as heights, deep water and germs
  • Situational phobias - such as visiting the dentist or flying
  • Bodily phobias - such as blood, vomit or having injections
  • Sexual phobias - such as performance anxiety or the fear of getting a sexually transmitted infection

Complex phobias

Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias. They tend to develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance. The two most common complex phobias are:
  • Agoraphobia- Agoraphobia is often thought of as a fear of open spaces, but it's much more complex than this. Someone with agoraphobia will feel anxious about being in a place or situation where escaping may be difficult if they have a panic attack. The anxiety usually results in the person avoiding situations such as being alone, being in crowded places, such as busy restaurants or supermarkets and travelling on public transport.
  • Social Phobia- Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, centres on feeling anxious in social situations. If you have a social phobia, you might be afraid of speaking in front of people for fear of embarrassing yourself and being humiliated in public. In severe cases, this can become debilitating and may prevent you from carrying out everyday activities, such as eating out or meeting friends.

So, what exactly is the reason behind phobias?

Phobias don't have a single cause, but there are a number of associated factors. For example:
  • A phobia may be associated with a particular incident or trauma
  • A phobia may be a learned response that a person develops early in life from a parent or sibling
  • Genetics may play a role - there's evidence to suggest that some people are born with a tendency to be more anxious than others

How to diagnose phobias?

Phobias aren't usually formally diagnosed. Most people with a phobia are fully aware of the problem.

A person will sometimes choose to live with a phobia, taking great care to avoid the object or situation they're afraid of. However, if you have a phobia, continually trying to avoid what you're afraid of will make the situation worse.

If you have a phobia, you should seek help from your doctor. They may refer you to a specialist with expertise in behavioural therapy, such as a psychologist.

Treatment options for phobias

  1. Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy helps to reprogram your unconscious mind processes that may be generating your fear. When these processes resolved, people are then free of the symptoms of phobia and fear is minimized. Hypnosis and other forms of modern personal development allow you to enter a state of trance and then deliver suggestions to reprogram, control or eliminate the phobia entirely. Imagine how nice it would be to go into a classroom for a test and not have an anxiety attack, or to be able to go camping in the woods. Hypnotherapy is safe and works fast and is becoming one of the most popular treatment options on the list of phobia cures.
  2. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): NLP is basically the study and practice of how we create our reality. From the NLP viewpoint, your fear is the result of your programs or "constructs" that you have created that are outmoded and not functioning as you would like them to. With NLP, these constructs are identified, exposed and re-programmed so that your phobia is made vulnerable and subsequently minimized and very often eliminated. NLP interventions are quite rapid and effective.
  3. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Cognitive therapy or cognitive behaviour therapy is a kind of psychotherapy used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, and other forms of mental disorder. It involves recognizing unhelpful patterns of thinking and reacting, then modifying or replacing these with more realistic or helpful ones. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is based on the idea of, how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotion), and how we act (behaviour) all interact together. Specifically, our thoughts determine our feelings and our behaviour. Therefore, negative thoughts can cause us distress and result in problems.
  4. Conventional Medicine: Next on the list of phobia cures is conventional medicine. The physiological responses to phobias such as having a fast pulse, sweating, high blood pressure, and so on, can be controlled by the use of beta-blocking drugs. The body’s beta receptors are tiny areas scattered all over the heart, the arteries, and muscles and elsewhere at which adrenaline and related hormones act when you have your phobic reaction. When these hormones contact the receptors their effect is to speed up the heart and constrict blood vessels, so increasing the blood pressure and to widen the airway tubes in the lungs. All this happens in moments of stress and need for action. The beta-blocker drugs have the same general chemical shape as the adrenaline molecule and so fit into the receptor sites in the same way, effectively blocking them so that adrenaline, although present, cannot act.

How to overcome your phobia?

  • Recognizing your phobia
  • Facing your fears
  • Being determined to overcome the phobia
  • Being ready to face the consequences
  • Approaching your problems
  • Diverting your mind to something else, whenever you create fearful thoughts
  • Convincing yourself, that your phobia is an over-exaggerated fear
  • Having a positive approach towards such situations in the future


user profile image
04-01-2018 05:57 PM

When I was a child, I had this phobia. I used to fear a lot when its dark out there. Then, I decided to visit a psychiatrist and get my problem treated.

user profile image
17-07-2016 06:24 AM

People are not well known about all these problems. They take it very lightly and carry away there life as it is.

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