How Do I Know If I Have a Phobia?

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The word “phobia” is a direct conversion of the Greek word for “fear.” The term is sometimes used conversationally to indicate a general fear or dislike of something. These common fears are simple, everyday anxieties that nearly everyone experiences. However, phobias are more involved and complex.

Definition of a Phobia

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger. The impact of a phobia can range from annoying to severely disabling. People with phobias often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re unable to do anything about it.

The irrational fears caused by phobias provoke intense anxiety and avoidance. Unlike the brief anxieties most people feel from time to time, a phobia is long-lasting and causes severe physical and psychological reactions.

More than 19 million adults in the United States suffer from some sort of phobia. No matter what the specifics, these exaggerated fears can become so all-consuming that they interfere with daily life and affect a person’s ability to function normally at work, school or in social settings.

Types of Phobias

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), recognizes several kinds of phobias and classifies them into three major types:

Specific Phobia – A specific phobia is a phobia of a specified object or situation. If the feared object or situation is commonplace, a specific phobia may become life-limiting. Specific phobias are divided into four major categories: animals, medical, natural environment, and situational.
Social Phobia – These phobias involve a strong and pervasive fear of being embarrassed in public. People with a social phobia may be reluctant to perform tasks such as eating, signing a check or even speaking in the presence of others.
Agoraphobia – This is the fear of being in a situation that would be difficult or embarrassing to escape, or where help would not be available if a panic attack were to occur. For many sufferers, agoraphobia develops into a fear of crowds, a fear of being alone and even a fear of leaving home.

The DSM recognizes more than 100 different specific phobias. Some common examples are:

  • Glossophobia – Performance anxiety, or the fear of speaking in front of an audience
  • Acrophobia – The fear of heights
  • Claustrophobia – The fear of enclosed or tight spaces
  • Aviatophobia – The fear of flying
  • Dentophobia – Fear of the dentist or dental procedures
  • Hemophobia – Fear of blood or injury
  • Arachnophobia – Fear of spiders
  • Cynophobia – Fear of dogs
  • Ophidiophobia – Fear of snakes
  • Nyctophobia – Fear of the nighttime or darkness

Symptoms of Phobias

There are several types and numerous forms of specific phobias. Since phobias produce intense anxiety in those who suffer from them, it is possible to identify some common and disabling ways in which various phobias affect people.

It is not necessary to have panic attacks or all of the symptoms below in order to be accurately diagnosed with a phobia. However, the following features are often associated with phobias and panic attacks:

  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid speech or inability to speak
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Choking sensation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sense of impending doom

Treatment of Phobias

Not all phobias need treatment, especially if they are not creating problems with your daily life. Self-help strategies, such as meditation or yoga, can be effective for dealing with and treating phobias that are less severe.

However, if a phobia affects your job, relationships or general day-to-day existence, there are several therapies available that can help you overcome your fears. Many who receive therapy for phobias see significant results in as little as one to four treatment sessions.

Those with a clinically diagnosed phobia might consider seeking professional treatment using one of the following treatment methods:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy This form of treatment is focused on exploring the patterns of thinking that lead to inappropriate responses.

Exposure Therapy This treatment exposes patients to their fears in a gradual, systematic and secure way. It teaches the individual that their feared object or situation doesn’t truly result in the expected negative response, leading to a decrease in distress when faced by the feared object.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction This is a treatment methodology that teaches people to be aware of their thoughts, feelings and sensations from moment to moment, without judgment or blame.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – This is another type of mindfulness psychotherapy that helps guide people into accepting negative experiences and challenges.

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