Fears regarding certain activities, situations, animals, or certain objects are not uncommon. A lot of people feel anxious when faced with something that scares them such as a spider, heights, or travel via plane. Fear is a completely normal response to a situation that may be a threat to your safety. However, some people may react to certain things by irrationally exaggerating the danger they are in. The feelings of panic or terror felt may be out of proportion to the actual threat. Sometimes even the thought of the feared situation or thing or seeing it on TV could be enough to trigger a strong fear response. These types of exaggerated reactions can be indicative of a specific phobia.
Individuals with specific phobias are usually aware that their fears are irrational, yet they are unable to control their physical reactions and step into reality. It is common to experience panic attacks when exposed to a phobia. A panic attack may include physical symptoms such as choking, nausea, a rapidly beating heart, faintness, chest pain, dizziness, hot or cold flashes or excessive sweating.
Many different types of phobias exist and it is common for an individual who has experienced phobias to experience multiple over the course of their life.
Specific phobias are typically divided into five categories grouped by the type of thing that triggers a fear response:
Another commonly experienced phobia is the fear of public speaking. This phobia however typically falls under the category of a social phobia or a social anxiety disorder which is where a person is overly concerned about how they appear to others. It differs from other specific phobias as it is not so much linked to a fear of danger but rather a fear of social ostracism.
You may have a specific phobia if you:
For example a person may have a fear of elevators. They will choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator even if it takes much longer or all their friends are taking the elevator. They may avoid going to places if there is no option but an elevator to get to their destination. If they are required to use an elevator they may feel faint or have a panic attack.
There is not always a clear reason why some people develop phobias and others do not however research suggests that some factors may increase a person's risk of developing a specific phobia. Some risk factors for developing specific phobias include:
Typically to be diagnosed as having a specific phobia you need to have experienced symptoms of a phobia for longer than six months and be experiencing significant distress or interference in important aspects of your life as a result of your specific fear. Only a trained medical professional such as a psychologist is able to formally diagnose a phobia.
Phobias are treatable and seeking professional support is the first step towards recovery. Psychological treatments will generally be the first line of treatment. In some severe cases, medication can also be effective.
The two most common types of psychological treatment for specific phobias are:
It is also common for both types of psychological treatment to be used together alongside other therapy styles as best suits the needs of the patient.