A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance. Phobias are not temporary or a short lived, but rather a long term fear of a specific trigger. These fears impact a person’s daily life and ability to function or face certain tasks. They can impact social, academic, or occupational settings, even when the specific fear is not present. When the fear or triggers is present, it causes an instant and intense physical and psychological effect, which is often times what is classified as a panic attack. While the anxiety response is very present and real, it is disproportionate to the actual threat the trigger presents. The initial anxiety response may be temporary; however, the residual anxiety is long lasting due to the avoidance, anticipation, and distress the phobia and fear of future exposure causes.
Types of Phobias:
There are three main categories of phobias; specific phobia, social phobia, and fear of open spaces or agoraphobia. A specific phobia is a disproportionate, persistent, and irrational fear of a specific object or situation. Some examples include; airplanes, enclosed spaces, nature or weather, animals or insects, blood or medical procedures, as well as many other objects. A social phobia is an extreme fear of public scrutiny or embarrassment as well as an excessive self-consciousness, in most common social situations. Agoraphobia is a fear of an actual or anticipated situation in which a person is outside of a perceived safe place; such as, public transportation, open or enclosed spaces, being in a crowd, or simply being outside their home without support. It is not uncommon for a person to have more than one phobia.
Symptoms or reactions to a Phobia:
- Uncontrollable panic, terror, or dread when exposed to subject of phobia
- Feeling that everything possible must be done to avoid what is feared
- Inability to function normally because of anxiety
- Physical reactions: sweating, shaking, flushing, dizziness, etc
- The knowledge that fear is unreasonable or exaggerated but being unable to control it
- Anxiety when thinking about fear
How is a Phobia treated?
A combination of medication and psychotherapy is the most common course of treatment. Medication can help control the anxiety response caused by the phobia and reduce anxiety when exposed to triggers; while psychotherapy targets the fears and the response to them, retraining thought and emotional responses. The two most common forms of therapy used to address phobias are Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Exposure Therapy focuses on changing the response to the fear by gradual and repeated exposure to the cause of the phobia with the guidance and coaching of a trained therapist. CBT combines exposure with other techniques to conquer the thought patterns behind the fear response, changing the beliefs that feed the fear and minimizing the impact on daily life.