Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder where you are overcome by an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of objects or situations that pose little real danger but provoke anxiety and avoidance. While you may feel some brief short term anxiety when giving a speech or taking a test, specific phobias last much longer and can cause intense physical and psychological reactions which affect your ability to function normally at work, school and any social setting.
Phobias are some of the most common anxiety disorders and their impact may range from annoying to severely debilitating. Therefore, not all phobias require treatment, however, in the situation where it is a hindrance to your daily life and duties, there are several therapies available to help you work through and overcome your fears, in a lot of cases, permanently.
Some of the most common types of phobias are:
- Agoraphobia – a fear of places or situations that you can’t escape from. People with agoraphobia generally fear being in large crowds or trapped outside of home and often stay inside their hones and avoid social situations altogether.
- Social phobia – This is often referred to as social anxiety disorder. It is an extreme worry about social situations and can be so severe that the simplest interactions, such as ordering at a restaurant or answering the phone, can cause intense panic. They usually go out of their way to avoid public situations and can lead to self isolation.
- Glossophobia – This is known as performance anxiety or fear of speaking to an audience or large group of people.
- Claustrophobia – The fear of tight or enclosed spaces. This can be severe enough to be disabling and prevents sufferers from riding in cars or elevators.
- Acrophobia – Known more commonly as a fear of heights and victims would usually avoid mountains, bridges, or higher floors of buildings.
- Aviophobia – The fear of flying
- Hemophobia – This is the fear of blood or injury. People with hemophobia often fanit when they come in contact with their own blood or another person’s.
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders.
- Nyctophobia – This is the fear of nighttime or darkeness and is usually present during childhood. However, when it progresses past adolescence it is considered a phobia.
Causes and Risk Factors for Phobias
Generally speaking, people with a predisposition to anxiety may be at a high risk of developing a phobia. In addition, socioeconomic status, age and gender also seem to be risk factors but only for specific phobias. People or children with low socioeconomic status are also more likely to have social phobias, while men make up the majority of those with medical phobias.
Genetics and environmental factors also play a role in the development of phobias.
Children who also have a relative with an anxiety disorder in addition to those who experience distressing/traumatic events (such as drowning). People with ongoing medical conditions or health concerns often have phobias and there is a high incidence of people developing phobias after traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse or depression.
The Signs And Symptoms of Phobia
Some signs and reactions that are produced regardless of the phobia you have are:
- A feeling of fear, anxiety or panic when exposed to the source of your fear.
- Worsening anxiety as the situation or object gets closer.
- Difficulty functioning because of your fear.
- Feeling nauseated, dizzy, or fainting.
The by far most common symptom of a phobia is a panic attack. Some of the features include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
- Sleep problems.
- Dry mouth.
- Cold, numb or tingling hands or feet.
- Heart palpitations.
- Hyperventilation (shortness of breath).
- Increased heart rate.
- Trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry.
A person with a phobia doesn’t have to have panic attacks for accurate diagnosis, however.
How Are Phobias Diagnosed And Treated?
The first step in diagnosing a specific phobia is usually to make sure there is no physical problem causing the symptoms. Once this has been ruled out, a psychiatrist or mental health specialist can perform an accurate diagnosis as well as provide counselling. They may use some tools to help with the diagnosis.
Psychological evaluation is an important tool and it involves discussing your thoughts and feelings as well as behavior with the professional to aid their diagnosis. They will also compare your symptoms with criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-5) which provides some criteria that many doctors find useful in checking for different mental problems. This was published by the American Psychiatric Association.
The two main options for treating anxiety caused by specific phobias are psychotherapy and medications, or a combination or both. There are several types of medication available to help relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety depending on which type of disorder you have. For example antidepressants such as escitalopram and fluoxetine are prescribed to treat anxiety. In addition anti-anxiety medication called buospirone is also available for prescribing.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is the type of counselling that focusses on the emotional response to mental illness and help you understand your condition. For anxiety disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most efficient form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. It involves teaching you skills to help deal with the symptoms. In addition to this, exposure therapy focuses on your response to the stimulating medium that causes the fear and examines your related thoughts and feelings that may help you manage the condition.