What is a phobia?

Almost everyone has an irrational fear or two—of mice, for example, or your annual dental checkup. For most people, these fears are minor. But, when fears become so severe that they cause tremendous anxiety and interfere with your normal life, they’re called phobias. The good news is that phobias can be managed and cured. Self-help strategies and Hypnotherapy can help you overcome your fears and start living the life you want.

A phobia is an intense fear of something that, in reality, poses little or no actual danger. Common phobias and fears include closed-in places, heights, highway driving, flying insects, snakes, and needles. However, we can develop phobias of virtually anything. Most phobias develop in childhood, but they can also develop in adults.

If you have a phobia, you probably realize that your fear is unreasonable, yet you still can’t control your feelings. Just thinking about the feared object or situation may make you anxious. And when you’re actually exposed to the thing you fear, the terror is automatic and overwhelming.

The experience is so nerve-wracking that you may go to great lengths to avoid it — inconveniencing yourself or even changing your lifestyle. If you have claustrophobia, for example, you might turn down a lucrative job offer if you have to ride the elevator to get to the office. If you have a fear of heights, you might drive an extra twenty miles in order to avoid a tall bridge.

Understanding your phobia is the first step to overcoming it. It’s important to know that phobias are common. Having a phobia doesn’t mean you’re crazy! It also helps to know that phobias are highly treatable. You can overcome your anxiety and fear, no matter how out of control it feels.

“Normal” fear vs. phobias

It is normal and even helpful to experience fear in dangerous situations. Fear is an adaptive human response. It serves a protective purpose, activating the automatic “fight-or-flight” response. With our bodies and minds alert and ready for action, we are able to respond quickly and protect ourselves.

But with phobias the threat is greatly exaggerated or nonexistent. For example, it is only natural to be afraid of a snarling Doberman, but it is irrational to be terrified of a friendly poodle on a leash, as you might be if you have a dog phobia.

The difference between normal fear and a phobia
Normal fear Phobia
Feeling anxious when flying through turbulence or taking off during a storm Not going to your best friend’s island wedding because you’d have to fly there
Experiencing butterflies when peering down from the top of a skyscraper or climbing a tall ladder Turning down a great job because it’s on the 10th floor of the office building
Getting nervous when you see a pit bull or a Rottweiler Steering clear of the park because you might see a dog
Feeling a little queasy when getting a shot or when your blood is being drawn Avoiding necessary medical treatments or doctor’s checkups because you’re terrified of needles

Normal fears in children

Many childhood fears are natural and tend to develop at specific ages. For example, many young children are afraid of the dark and may need a nightlight to sleep. That doesn’t mean they have a phobia. In most cases, they will grow out of this fear as they get older.

If your child’s fear is not interfering with his or her daily life or causing him or her a great deal of distress, then there’s little cause for undue concern. However, if the fear is interfering with your child’s social activities, school performance, or sleep, you may want to see a qualified child therapist.

Which of my child’s fears are normal?

According to the Child Anxiety Network, the following fears are extremely common and considered normal:

  • 0-2 years– Loud noises, strangers, separation from parents, large objects.
  • 3-6 years– Imaginary things such as ghosts, monsters, the dark, sleeping alone, strange noises.
  • 7-16 years – More realistic fears such as injury, illness, school performance, death, natural disasters.

Common types of phobias and fears

There are four general types of phobias and fears:

  • Animal phobias.Examples include fear of snakes, fear of spiders, fear of rodents, and fear of dogs.
  • Natural environment phobias.Examples include fear of heights, fear of storms, fear of water, and fear of the dark.
  • Situational phobias (fears triggered by a specific situation).Examples include fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of tunnels, and fear of bridges.
  • Blood-Injection-Injury phobia. The fear of blood, fear or injury, or a fear of needles or other medical procedures.

Common phobias and fears

  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of snakes
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear or closed spaces
  • Fear of storms
  • Fear of needles and injections
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of germs
  • Fear of illness or death

Some phobias don’t fall into one of the four common categories. Such phobias include fear of choking, fear of getting a disease such as cancer, and fear of clowns.

Social phobia and fear of public speaking

Social PhobiaSocial phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, is fear of social situations where you may be embarrassed or judged. If you have social phobia you may be excessively self-conscious and afraid of humiliating yourself in front of others. Your anxiety over how you will look and what others will think may lead you to avoid certain social situations you’d otherwise enjoy.

Fear of public speaking, an extremely common phobia, is a type of social phobia. Other fears associated with social phobia include fear of eating or drinking in public, talking to strangers, taking exams, mingling at a party, and being called on in class.

“I can’t believe it…..I passed the exam!”  M.D. Farnborough

“I stood up in front of everyone and it all worked.  I actually enjoyed speaking and sharing what I know.  And I cannot wait for the  next one!” A.M. Basingstoke

 

Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)

AgoraphobiaAgoraphobia is another phobia that doesn’t fit neatly into any of the four categories. Traditionally thought to involve a fear of public places and open spaces, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks.

Afraid of having another panic attack, you become anxious about being in situations where escape would be difficult or embarrassing, or where help wouldn’t be immediately available. For example, you are likely to avoid crowded places such as shopping malls and movie theaters. You may also avoid cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home.

Signs and symptoms of phobias

The symptoms of a phobia can range from mild feelings of apprehension and anxiety to a full-blown panic attack. Typically, the closer you are to the thing you’re afraid of, the greater your fear will be. Your fear will also be higher if getting away is difficult.

Physical signs and symptoms of a phobia

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Racing or pounding heart
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • A churning stomach
  • Hot or cold flashes; tingling sensations
  • Sweating

Emotional signs and symptoms of a phobia

  • Feeling of overwhelming anxiety or panic
  • Feeling an intense need to escape
  • Feeling “unreal” or detached from yourself
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Feeling like you’re going to die or pass out
  • Knowing that you’re overreacting, but feeling powerless to control your fear

 

Symptoms of Blood-Injection-Injury Phobia

The symptoms of blood-injection-injury phobia are slightly different from other phobias. When confronted with the sight of blood or a needle, you experience not only fear but disgust.

Like other phobias, you initially feel anxious as your heart speeds up. However, unlike other phobias, this acceleration is followed by a quick drop in blood pressure, which leads to nausea, dizziness, and fainting. Although a fear of fainting is common in all specific phobias, blood-injection-injury phobia is the only phobia where fainting can actually occur.

“I am writing to thank you for the help you gave me getting over my fear of needles. ………it has allowed me to go into a jaw operation with none of the fear I would have felt without your help.  Being able to go through it as easily as I did is a small miracle.”  M.H. Hampshire

When to seek help for phobias and fears

Although phobias are common, they don’t always cause considerable distress or significantly disrupt your life. For example, if you have a snake phobia, it may cause no problems in your everyday activities if you live in a city where you are not likely to run into one. On the other hand, if you have a severe phobia of crowded spaces, living in a big city would pose a problem.

If your phobia doesn’t really impact your life that much, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about. But if avoidance of the object, activity, or situation that triggers your phobia interferes with your normal functioning or keeps you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy, it’s time to seek help.

Consider treatment for your phobia if:

  • It causes intense and disabling fear, anxiety, and panic.
  • You recognize that your fear is excessive and unreasonable.
  • You avoid certain situations and places because of your phobia.
  • Your avoidance interferes with your normal routine or causes significant distress.
  • You’ve had the phobia for at least six months.

The Fast Phobia Technique, as developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, utilises dissociation techniques while encouraging deeper and deeper feelings of comfort and calm.  You can literally disintegrate that attachment so any negative feelings and fears disappear. There is no need to hold onto a fear, unless you want to.  And also remember, just discussing what  it may contribute or negate in your life is sometimes very beneficial.