Almost everybody has a fear or two. For most individuals, these fears are relatively minor. However, when a fear begins to interfere with everyday life and causes severe anxiety, it’s called a phobia. If you suspect that you’re suffering from a phobia, you’re not alone.
An estimated 19 million Americans have some type of phobia, with twice as many women affected as men. Fortunately, treatment for phobias is extremely effective, and you can successfully manage your fears with the help of a mental health professional.
What Causes Phobias?
Environmental and genetic factors can contribute to the onset of phobias. A traumatic event can bring on a phobia – animal bites, near-drowning, and experiences in confined spaces have been known to trigger phobias. Many individuals with traumatic brain injuries go on to develop phobias, and people with a predisposition toward anxiety are at high risk for phobias.
Types of Phobias
The American Psychiatric Association has defined over 100 different phobias. A few of the most common ones include:
- Social phobia: Also known as social anxiety disorder, this severe distress related to social situations can result in isolation.
- Aviatophobia: The fear of flying. It’s estimated that nearly 7 percent of Americans avoid air travel due to this phobia.
- Claustrophobia: The fear of tight spaces. In some cases, this phobia prevents individuals from using elevators or riding in cars.
- Agoraphobia: Although this phobia is often described as a “fear of open spaces”, it is actually characterized by a fear of situations or places from which you cannot escape. Many agoraphobics become confined to their home or avoid social situations due to their fear.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of a phobia can range from mild apprehension to severe panic. These symptoms tend to worsen as you get closer to the object of your fear.
Physical symptoms of a phobia include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Racing heart
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Emotional symptoms of a phobia include:
- Overwhelming anxiety
- Intense desire to escape
- Feeling like you may pass out or die
- Feeling powerless over your fear
The most significant difference between an ordinary fear and a phobia is that a phobia will cause some degree of impairment. It will affect your daily routine and keep you from performing everyday activities.
With the right treatment plan, it’s possible to overcome a phobia and regain control over your life. Exposure therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat a phobia. In exposure therapy, clients are exposed to the object of their fear in a safe, controlled setting.
Flooding is a powerful exposure technique that exposes an individual to the fear object for an extended period of time. For individuals who can’t handle flooding, counter-conditioning offers an effective alternative. In a counter-conditioning session, the client develops a new response to the object of their fear. Their usual fear and anxiety are replaced with relaxation techniques in a step-by-step fashion.
It’s clear that phobias can be disabling, but the good news is that they can be cured. If you have a fear that’s preventing you from living the life you want, help is available. Our treatment center takes a holistic approach to recovery, healing each client’s mind, body and spirit. Contact us today for more information about our phobia recovery program and other mental health treatment programs.