A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder and is defined as an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

Many of us are fearful about certain things, for example we may not like a particular type of insect and may experience some anxiety or feelings of disgust when we encounter one. Phobias however, are far more pronounced than most people’s fears. The level of anxiety and fear associated with a phobia is exaggerated and excessive, and irrational in the sense that usually no real danger is present.

People who experience phobias will often try to avoid the situation or object that their phobia relates to and this can become detrimental to their functioning and day-to-day lives. Sometimes avoiding the object of their phobia can become almost all-consuming, and they may base decisions around this avoidance. Often even thinking about the source of a phobia is enough to make the person feel anxious, or bring on a feeling of panic.

Signs and symptoms of Phobia

  • Feeling hot
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or an upset stomach
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations

The impact that a person’s phobia has on their day to day life will very much depend on what the source of their phobia is, and how often they will come into contact with this in day to day life. For example, some people have a phobia of birds which can obviously be extremely difficult to avoid coming into contact with in day to day life.

On the other hand, if someone has a phobia of snakes and lives in the UK, it is unlikely that they will be confronted with the source of their phobia very often at all. They may therefore be able to get on with their day to day lives without giving much thought to their phobia.

Types of Phobia

When most of us think of phobias, we think of what we might call specific or simple phobias. These tend to centre around a particular animal, situation, activity or object. For example:

  • Animal phobias – common examples include snakes, spiders, rats, dogs
  • Environmental phobias – common examples include heights, water, germs
  • Situational phobias – common examples include flying, going on a boat, going to the dentist, interviews
  • Bodily phobias – common examples include vomiting, having injections, seeing blood

There are also more complex phobias, that can tend to have a more debilitating impact on day to day life than simple, specific phobias. Two of the most common types of complex phobias are:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

What type of therapy can help?

The most common type of therapy offered for phobias is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). As well as helping you to gain an awareness of your thought processes with regards to your phobia, and how to manage these, CBT will usually involve some form of gradual exposure to the source of your phobia.

We know that avoiding things that make us feel anxiety can ultimately lead to our anxiety becoming stronger, and having more of an impact on our lives. Therefore it can be important to reduce this avoidance, allowing people to gain more control over their phobia.

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