Understanding Phobias

understanding phobias - what is a phobiaPhobias affect millions of people worldwide, causing difficulty in their everyday life, preventing them from leading productive personal and/or professional lives.

Expert psychosocial rehabilitational specialist Kendra Cherry, also an About.com guide, quotes the American Psychological Association as defining a phobia as an “irrational or excessive fear of an object or situation.” You can, for example, have a fear of bees that is so strong it keeps you from leaving home in spring, summer, or early fall, for fear of being stung by one.

They usually stem from a prior traumatic experience with the object of the phobia, but a prior precipitating event is not always necessary.

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Symptoms Of Phobias.

If you are phobic, you may suffer symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, or nausea at the very thought of coming into contact with the object of your fears. For example, my mother had a phobia of snakes that caused her to be ill-at-ease even viewing one on TV. This was, perhaps, in part, brought on by her having grown up in Mississippi, where they are fairly common.

If you suffer these symptoms, know that these indicators can develop into a full-fledged anxiety attack. Treatment is vital as phobias can cause problems in everyday life, such as the inability to maintain a job, or to keep fruitful personal relationships.

Types of Phobias

Mental health professionals group phobias into three main classes

  1. social phobias: such as fear of public speaking;
  2. agoraphobia: which means fear of being in public places;
  3. specific phobias: such as fear of water, dogs, cats, or other things.

You can read more about the three main types or categories of phobias on our page entitled Types Of Phobias – Click Here >>>

There are literally thousands of specific phobias relating to many different fears – you can view the definitive phobia list – here>>>

Diagnosis Of Phobias

A mental health professional must use both his clinical skills and the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual as reference points in his diagnosis, according to About.com guide and mental health professional Lisa Fritscher.

In general, if you visit a practitioner, they will listen to you describe your symptoms. Initially, they may seek an alternative explanation for your symptoms other than a phobia. Indeed, one of the criteria the doc uses is whether or not you, the patient, can pinpoint a specific object of your fear. If you can’t, he or she is likely to diagnose you with a more generalized type of anxiety. In addition, another goal of the mental health professional would be to see if the fear is life-limiting in any way, such as limiting your ability to keep a job, or to make and keep friends.

Another criterion your clinician may use in diagnosing your condition is level of avoidance. They will most likely ask you questions aimed at gauging the lengths to which you will go to avoid the object of your fears. For example, let’s say you’re afraid of bees. A person who is merely afraid of bees will avoid eating ice cream outside in the months that bees are most prevalent and likely to follow you around, and to use insect repellant on his body. On the other hand, a person who has a phobia of bees–and other stinger insects as well–is likely to keep wasp and hornet spray in abundant supply around the house, and avoid going outside–possibly even to the point of having attendance problems at work that could, in turn, lead to his being unemployed in a short amount of time.

Yet another indicator of the presence of a phobia is anticipatory anxiety. One of the signs a clinician will seek in diagnosing your condition to be a phobia is a certain level of anxiety associated with the event in question. For example, if you are a student that is facing an oral presentation soon, your level of anxiety escalates radically as the event approaches. You dwell on it in your mind–it’s the first thing you think about in the morning, and the last thing you think about before you retire at night. You may even have nightmares at the idea of having to give a public talk.

Phobia Treatments

Treatments for phobias fall into three main categories–talk therapy, desensitization or exposure, and medication. Talk therapy centers around counseling, where you and your counselor explore methods of coping with the object of your fears. The therapist’s goal is to help you acquire tools to help you overcome your phobias.

Besides basic talk therapy, psychotherapy also exists as a treatment. Unlike basic talk therapy, psychotherapy goes a bit deeper. The therapist will ask you to delve into why you are so afraid of water, of one-on-one relationships, academic tests, or whatever. In the case of tests, she may be able to trace your fear back to the brutal punishment you received from your father when you failed a math test as far back as fifth grade. The goal from all this is to suggest to you ways to deal with the fear, and to eventually overcome that barrier. Hypnotherapy is also proven to be an effective addition to this kind of treatment.

Another method that clinicians use to treat phobias is known as desensitization. In this form of treatment, the practitioner may expose you to the object of your fear. If your fear is public speaking, for instance, they may give you the assignment of giving a public talk in front of your friends. The more you do it, the fear goes away over time.

Your practitioner may also choose to treat your condition by using drugs, such as antidepressants, beta blockers, and tranquilizers, depending on the severity of your condition. If you agree to this form of treatment, know that there are a number of untoward side effects. These conditions may include headaches, blurry vision, tremors, palpitations (irregular heartbeats), and insomnia.

The goal of antidepressants is to stimulate the brain, encouraging the release of dopamines that will elevate your mood, thus making you feel less depressed. Along with this, however, there is a possibility that they can actually worsen your depression, when you first begin to take them, as the WebMd website points out.

If your doctor indicates an antidepressant for you, stick to the dosage that he has prescribed for you. Never adjust your dosage on your own. Let the doctor wean you from them as he will do it gradually. Otherwise, you could face a number of withdrawal symptoms.

Another medication used in the war against phobias is beta blockers. These medicines are known to lower the blood pressure of the patient. Indeed, high blood pressure can become a health concern for someone suffering from phobias–or from any kind of generalized anxiety, for that matter. These medicines also have their side effects such as stomach problems, cold fingers, insomnia, and a feeling of being tired.


Phobias don’t have to affect your life. You can seek treatment and help. However, the important thing is to visit a mental health professional at the first sign you might have a phobia. Work together with your clinician to develop a treatment plan that is appropriate for you. It may be talk therapy, desensitization, or medication–or any combination of the three.



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