What Phobia Disorders Are All About

Mary was deathly afraid of spiders. Anytime she saw one or thought about it, she got paralyzed. She couldn’t talk, got very sweaty and sometimes would shake incredibly. She never knew it was a disorder and only assumed her reaction was because her best friend had died from a spider bite.

What Is Phobia?

A phobia is considered as the most common kind of anxiety disorder. The phobic disorder definition is, an anxiety disorder marked by persistent, excessive and unfounded fear of situations or things. It includes refraining from objects, or circumstances that could stimulate this fear in you. Typically, many phobias develop in childhood, around the age of 10-13 years, but some can arise in adulthood. The first step to conquering them is to acquire knowledge on them.

How Phobias Differ From General Fear

How is a phobia different from regular fear? Many people experience some level of anxiety towards situations or objects. What sets phobias apart is that the fear is unreasonable, extreme or nonexistent and it is disproportionate to the actual threat posed. They also significantly affect your occupational or social performance because they make you go to extreme lengths to avoid them. People with phobias may be aware that their fears are irrational but are still unable to control them. When they are exposed to the specific situation or phobic object, their fright is overwhelming and automatic.

Phobia Causes

Their actual causes are not entirely known but many of them are associated with traumatic occurrences or learned responses. Gender is a risk factor in the occurrence of some phobias. Men have more doctor and dentist phobias while women commonly have animal ones. The following are thought to trigger them.

  • Genetic factors – individuals susceptible to anxiety are more prone to phobia disorder. Children with family members suffering from them stand a higher risk of developing them.  
  • Stressful events can initiate a phobia. A frightening experience like an animal attack or a traumatic event where people were harmed or felt overwhelming fear can cause it.
  • People with medical conditions such as traumatic brain injuries have higher chances of developing phobias.
  • Repeated warnings or information about potentially dangerous animals or situations.
  • Depression and substance abuse have been linked to phobias.
  • Fear can be learned, for example by children from parents

Phobia Symptoms

Phobia disorder symptoms vary from mild anxiety to full-scale panic attacks. The nearer you are to a cause, the higher your level of fear. It may become worse if you have no escape route. Though different phobias cause distinct symptoms here are the general symptoms.

Physical Symptoms Include

  • Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath
  • Shaking or trembling involuntarily
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Sweating profusely
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Tingling sensations including flashes of hot or cold
  • Increased heart rate
  • A churning sensation in your stomach or nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Inability to speak or rapid speech
  • A choking sensation
  • Raised blood pressure

Emotional Symptoms Are –

  • Experiencing an overwhelming need to escape
  • A surreal feeling of detachment from yourself
  • A sensation of panic or extreme anxiety
  • Children express phobic anxiety by throwing tantrums, clinging to a parent or crying
  • Fear of going crazy or losing control
  • Experiencing a sensation of passing out or about to die
  • Understanding that you are overreacting and yet being powerless to control your fear
  • A feeling of anticipating anxiety where you nervously prepare to encounter phobic situations or objects

It is necessary to opt for treatment if,

  • These symptoms persist for over 6 months,
  • Fear interferes with your normal life operations
  • The fear is disabling and overwhelming
  • You refrain from certain places or avoid specific situations because of fear
  • You realize that your fear is irrational and unnecessary

Classification of Phobias

Though there exists a number of different phobias, they are grouped into two major types, specific phobias and social phobias. It is possible to have more than one phobia at a time. A specific phobia is characterized by persistent and unreasonable fear towards an object or situation that is long lasting. They are categorized into 4 general groups.

  1. Animal phobias – these are phobias towards animals or insects such as spiders or dogs. They are the most common type of specific phobias.
  2. Situational phobias: These are triggered by a specific circumstance or fear of specific situations. Examples include fear of enclosed spaces, flying, going through tunnels
  3. Natural environment phobias – these include fear of storms, heights, water, and the dark.
  4. Blood-Injection-Injury phobia – this comprises the fear of illness, being injured, blood, or medical procedures like injections or blood tests.
  5. Other phobias: These phobias do not fall into the above categories. They include a fear of fear of choking, falling down, a fear of costumed characters like clowns, fear of loud sounds.

Most Common Types of Phobias

There are so many different phobias but here is a summary:

  1. Social phobia – is sometimes referred to as social anxiety disorder. It is the fear of public situations where you may be scrutinized and embarrassed. The extreme concern about social situations can make you self-conscious enough to end up in self-isolation. The fear is centered on what others think about you and how you appear to them. Social phobia includes, fear of public speaking, talking to strangers, and fear of eating in public.
  2. Agoraphobia – is the fear of situations or places where getting away is embarrassing, difficult or impossible. It is believed to be a complication of panic attacks. People suffering from Agoraphobia fear large crowds and are afraid of being stuck outside their homes. Those with chronic medical conditions fear emergencies can occur in public areas with no help available.
  3. Acrophobia – fear of heights.
  4. Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces.
  5. Nyctophobia is the fear of darkness. It may begin as a childhood fear but when it continues beyond adolescence, it becomes a phobia.
  6. Dentophobia is the fear of dental procedures
  7. Hemophobia is the fear of blood.
  8. Arachnophobia – fear of spiders.

After asking yourself what is a phobia, you may be wondering if it can be managed. Though common, they can be controlled and even eliminated. Self-management strategies include mindfulness, relaxation techniques and exercise which can help you successfully manage phobia disorder.

NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programing) has also been found to help eliminate phobias.  Another option is to work with a Certified EFT practitioner (Emotional Freedom Technique).

Do not give up.  There is always a way to change!

If you enjoyed this article please read our other article about phobia’s “Phobias | What Are They and How to Overcome Them


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