Individuals with a phobia go to great lengths to avoid a perceived danger which is much greater in their minds than in real life. If confronted with the source of their phobia, the person will suffer enormous distress, which can interfere with their normal function; it can sometimes lead to total panic. For some people, even thinking about their phobia is immensely distressing.
A phobia starts when a person begins organizing their lives around avoiding the object of their fear. A phobia is much more serious than a simple fear. Sufferers have an overpowering need to steer clear of anything which triggers their anxiety.
- What is a phobia?
- How common are phobias?
- Symptoms of phobias
- Causes of phobias
- Tests and diagnosis of phobias
- Treatment for phobias
- Treating phobias as we dream
- Most common phobias
Fast facts on phobias
Here are some key points about phobias. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Phobias are much more serious than simple fears.
- A fear of snakes is termed opidiophobia.
- Over 50 million people in the US have a phobia.
- Females more commonly suffer from phobias than males.
- Phobias often have their origins in early life.
- Despite phobic individuals being aware that their fear is irrational, they can not control the feelings.
- Symptoms may include sweating, chest pains, and pins and needles.
- Phobias may have their basis in evolutionary adaptations.
- Specific brain areas have been found to be involved in phobias.
What is a phobia?
The word "phobia" is used for a number of quite different concepts.
Non-psychological phobias - photophobia means sensitivity to light. For example, if you have conjunctivitis or a migraine your eyes may be particularly sensitive to light. This does not mean the person is afraid of light. One of the symptoms of rabies is hydrophobia, which is the inability to drink water.
Discrimination or prejudice - some words which include the word "phobia" do not refer to fear, but rather to prejudice or discrimination. Homophobia is not an uncontrollable fear of homosexual people; it is a dislike, a discrimination against them. Some older people may dislike youths or teenagers (ephebiphobia). Xenophobia is a dislike of strangers, foreigners or the unknown.
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).
- 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 in 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.
The two cateogories 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.
How common are phobias?In the industrial nations, phobias are the most common kind of anxiety disorder. Over 50 million people in the USA and 10 million in the UK are thought to live with a phobia. They can affect people of any age, sex, and socioeconomic status.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimated in 2011 that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans of all ages suffer from phobias.
A much higher percentage of women suffer from phobias than men.
Simple phobias usually start early on in life - during childhood, and often go away by the time the person reaches late teens. Complex phobias generally start later on.
On the next page, we look at the symptoms, causes and diagnosis of phobias.