10 Facts about phobias and fears
1) Most fears are learned except for a few fears such as the fear of falling, the fear of loud noises and the fear of objects moving towards us. In evolutionary terms, this makes sense. Early humans were nowhere near as equipped to deal with danger as we are now — so a wild animal or a person we don’t know approaching us could be a sign of potential danger.
2) Individuals with a phobia go to great lengths to avoid a perceived danger which is much greater in their minds than in real life.
3) There are three main categories of phobias:
- Specific phobias (simple phobias) – involve a disproportionate fear about specific situations, living creatures, places, activities, or things. Examples include a fear of:- Dentists (dentophobia)
– Bats (chiroptophobia)
– Dogs (cynophobia)
– Flying (aviophobia)
– Snakes (opidiophobia)
– Birds (ornithophobia)
– Frogs (ranidaphobia)
- The two categories below,
social phobia and agoraphobia are known as complex phobias. They are linked to a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about certain situations, incidents or circumstances, which make them much more disabling than simple phobias.
- Social phobia – now called social anxiety disorder. A person with social phobia finds being in social situations difficult and sometimes unbearable. Going to parties, weddings, functions, or exhibitions cause sufferers anxiety; there is fear of being embarrassed or humiliated in public. The ultimate nightmare for a person with social phobia is probably to have to talk in public or act on a stage of front of an audience.There is a fear of being judged by other people. People affected with social phobia feel that they will be scrutinized and singled out in the crowd, which would be an unbearably embarrassing ordeal. The dread of being laughed at because of their clothes, voice or some feature of their body is so intense that they prefer to avoid social gatherings altogether.Psychologists say that a high proportion of adults with social phobia started taking measures to avoid social situations during their teenage years. Studies have shown that their progressively isolated lifestyles make them more susceptible to developing depression. Experts emphasize that social phobia is not the same as shyness.Obese people may develop social anxiety disorder, simply because of their weight.
- Agoraphobia – an individual with agoraphobia is frightened of finding himself/herself in situations where there is no escape; they fear being stuck in a desperate situation with no help. Agoraphobia may include a dread of traveling on buses or trains, going into large shops or shopping malls. When symptoms are severe, the patient may find it unbearable to even step out of their own home.Sufferers have an 80% risk of also suffering from panic disorder. As with social phobia, crowded and public places are avoided.
4) The causes of phobia are unclear. Some originate from traumatic experiences in childhood whilst others, such as complex phobias are less clear.
5) Neuroscience researchers have found that phobias are often linked to the amygdala, which lies behind the pituitary gland. The amygdala can trigger the release of “fight-or-flight” hormones, which put the body and mind in a highly alert and stressed state. Malfunctions of the amygdala and associated brain structures may give rise to many phobias. Still, researchers have yet to work out the details of how this happens.
6) Exposure therapy (desensitisation) involves gradually increasing the length of time you’re exposed to your phobia.
For example, if you have agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces and public places), you might start by going outside your house for a very short period of time, before gradually increasing the length of time you spend outside and the distance you travel from your house.
Exposure therapy can be a very effective way of enabling you to cope with your anxiety.
7) Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helps us learn to challenge the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, combined with gradual exposure to the feared object or situation.
Example of a simple vicious cycle of Phobia
8) Nearly 17% of people with social phobias develop depression. The majority of them turn to medication, even substance abuse with illegal drugs (nearly 17%) or alcohol (nearly 19%). However, the fact remains that anti anxiety medication and antidepressants are the most effective treatment for social phobias. Apart from prescription medication, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also a known effective treatment for overcoming social phobias.
9) The most common specific phobias include the fear of animals, fear of the environment (fear of rain, earthquakes etc.), fear of blood/injury, fear of certain situations (claustrophobia, fear of traveling on bridges etc.), fear of death, fear of certain body sensations and fear of incontinence.
If specific phobias exist in adolescence, they have a greater chance of persisting in early adulthood. Specific phobias that continue into adulthood generally become chronic if they are not treated. Furthermore, there is a greater chance for an individual diagnosed with specific phobia to develop new phobias as a young adult. Phobias contracted during childhood or adolescence that continue when individuals become young adults remit approximately 20% of the time. Individuals with specific phobias do not often seek treatment. For those who seek treatment, research suggests that compared to individuals with specific phobias whose fear diminishes slowly during exposure, individuals with specific phobias whose fear diminishes more rapidly have a better prognosis for recovery.
A consideration of prognosis takes into account the distinction between fear onset and phobia onset. Studies indicate that individuals with specific phobias of animal, blood, heights, and driving had a fear onset nine years earlier than their phobia onset. Some studies have shown that generalized anxiety level, severity of symptoms, and prior experience with the phobic stimulus are factors that have been associated with treatment outcome.
Although most mental health professionals consider specific phobia that begins in childhood to be a benign disorder, it can last for years if left untreated. Some studies indicate, however, that specific phobia does not become worse and usually diminishes as an individual ages. Without treatment, the prognosis is poor for an individual who has several phobias.
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