Having a phobia can be a traumatic and overwhelming experience for most of anxiety sufferers, a phobia is simply a fear of a place, animal, object, location, situation or feeling. It’s widely regarded that a phobia is related to anxiety, it’s classed as an ‘anxiety disorder’ and its similarities can be striking.
Just like anxiety, a phobia can develop into a serious condition in which a person may organise their life around, this can potentially be damaging to relationships, friendships, work and day to day life. Sufferers can feel like ‘nobody understands’ and their lives feel ‘out of control’, equally they can also be told they’ll ‘grow out of it’ these are similar feelings anxiety sufferers also complain about.
Depending on the phobia each circumstance will most likely be different, thus each symptom will vary from person to person, if a sufferer doesn’t come into contact with the source of their phobia very often, it may not affect their daily lives in a dramatic way, equally if their phobia is something like agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) this may affect their daily lives in a severe way.
Generally phobias develop during childhood or adolescence, for some people they may become less ‘severe’ as they get older, for others they may suffer for their entire lives. Phobias can be brought about by a painful past experience, this could have left a sufferer traumatised.
Understand the Types of Phobias
It’s widely accepted that common phobias are categorised into two groups, ‘specific phobias’ and ‘complex phobias’. A specific phobia centres around an object, animal, situation, location or activity, a complex phobia is usually associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a situation.
A lot of adults know ‘logically’ that their phobia is simply a fear in their mind, rather than a ‘physical’ life threatening fear, equally for some they also accept their phobia is ‘stupid’ or ‘daft’ but still find themselves unable to control their anxiety. This is a classic response I have heard from phobia sufferers and it’s completely normal to feel this way.
Symptoms of phobias can include feeling unsteady, dizzy, lightheaded, sweating, hot or cold flushes, nausea, numbness or tingling, trembling or shaking, sometimes if these feelings are ‘intense’ they can trigger a panic attack.
Generally, phobia sufferers already ‘know’ they suffer from a phobia so don’t seek professional medical confirmation from a doctor or consultant. However it’s always recommended to see a doctor because symptoms can vary and just like anxiety, present themselves in many different forms, only a complete evaluation of your body and your history will be able to pinpoint exact causes to your issue.
Common phobias include things such as:
Animal Phobias – The fear of spiders, snakes, dogs, cats.
Bodily Phobias – The fear of injections, having blood taken, vomiting.
Environment Phobias – The fear of heights, water, germs, pollution.
Location Phobias – The fear of motorways, big cities, countryside, supermarkets.
Situation Phobias – The fear of visiting the dentist, visiting the doctor, flying, public transport.
What are Complex Phobias?
A complex phobia can cause significant disability for a sufferer, unlike a specific phobia which is only present when near the source of their fear (a snake for example), a complex phobia can be so debilitating it can affect a sufferer on a daily basis.
The two most common types of complex phobias are:
Social Phobia – This is the fear of being judged or watched in a social situation. It can be closely linked to social anxiety and sufferers may worry they will do something ‘embarrassing’ or people are going to be critical of them.
Agoraphobia – This is the fear of open spaces or being in a situation where you feel like you ‘can’t escape’. Such examples may include being in a crowd, standing in a queue, travelling in a car or fear of leaving the home.
The Cause of Phobias
Just like anxiety there doesn’t seem to be one particular cause of phobias, it’s more a makeup of several different factors. These factors can be major or simple and obviously they vary from person to person as each phobia is different. For some a particular incident may have led to a phobia developing, such as a bad experience of flying, a car accident or embarrassment in front of their peers.
Equally it’s not uncommon for people to develop phobias through learned behaviour they may have seen in their early life, some people can show signs of the same phobia an older sibling or parent has/had.
This is because they have been surrounded for many years in a family environment which rightly or wrongly has featured a person who is worried or anxious. In relation to this a genetic link may also be present, apart from ‘learning’ a phobia it may also be possible that a family suffers similar phobias, in the same way they share similar characteristics like having brown hair or blue eyes.
It’s also not unusually for long term stress sufferers to develop phobias, this can because their feelings of anxiety, stress or even depression could reduce their ability to cope with particular feelings, objects, places or events. Just like the ‘anxiety cycle’, this may make a sufferer feel anxious or fearful of being in a compromising position once again, this results in their fear heightening and the phobia continuing.
Treatment for Phobias
Treatments for phobias vary simply because a lot of people don’t seek treatment as they avoid their phobia which controls the problem. In complex phobia cases this isn’t always a valid option and help is needed, whether through self-help techniques or professional advice from a doctor or consultant. Generally, most phobias are curable, but like anxiety there’s no single solution which is guaranteed to work for everybody. Sometimes an array of different treatments may be recommended however this obviously varies from person to person.
Just like anxiety itself learning to manage the initial panic, fear and emotions of a phobia is easier said than done, generally when attempting to treat phobias it’s a good idea to take one day at a time, some days will be great, others won’t, however even if yesterday wasn’t your best day don’t dwell on it, simply keep progressing and over time you will see improvements.
Relaxation techniques can help you to reduce your anxieties, fears and stresses towards your phobia, these may help you to regain control and feel more confident about both yourself and your life. As the modern world is full of complex daily tasks it can be common to feel like things are ‘getting too much’ or you’re having trouble ‘managing’.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to simply pause for a moment and introduce relaxation into your day in a subtle and easy way, take a moment every few hours to stop what you’re doing, you can either look around or close your eyes, smell what’s around you and listen to the sounds that you may hear. After a few moments, you should generally feel more relaxed and calmer, this is basically a technique to tell your brain, you’re in ‘control’.
If you feel you need more professional help then talking over a treatment plan with your doctor could be a wise decision, often they can refer you to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or another phobia related specialist. It’s widely regarded that CBT is an effective method of treating phobias, it can help you to adjust your way of thinking, and how you ‘behave’, if you can’t create a treatment plan on your own CBT can help you to develop a practical way of overcoming your fear.
For example, Sally has a phobia of snakes, her CBT consultant recommends she firstly gains knowledge about the reptile. Sally visits the local library and begins reading about snakes, she’s then invited to a local zoo and sees a snake ‘in person’. As she’s progressing really well with her phobia the reptile keeper gives her a snake to hold in her hands.
This form of treatment is simply gradually exposing the ‘fear’ to the sufferer, instead of going in ‘head first’ and attempting large leaps, a gradual break up into smaller goals will result in one big goal.
Some sufferers believe medication is required to treat their phobia, like being proscribed antibiotics to treat an infection, however medication isn’t usually recommended for treating phobias. Generally therapy is usually effective enough for the vast majority of sufferers and doesn’t contain any side effects, so this method is usually the first treatment program a professional doctor will recommend.
If the phobia is severe depending on the situation then a doctor may prescribe medication on a short-term basis, this is something which I can’t document or suggest as every patients medical history is different and only a doctor can truly evaluate each individual case in person.
You can attempt to treat your phobia through self-help techniques such as breathing exercises and goal diary’s. A goal diary is simply a way of documenting your progress through a planned series of small goals, very like Sally’s snake phobia above. The idea is to start small and progress over time at a natural steady pace. Equally if a phobia is so severe you feel as though you’re having a panic attack – then learning breathing techniques could be a good solution.