Some phobias can be debilitating to the point where the person affected is unable to live a normal life due to their fears.

What is a phobia?

Phobias are a type of extreme fear and an anxiety disorder which affects around 8% of the UK population at some point of their lives. Many people have heard of phobias such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces) but there are countless other triggers where the person feels at risk even when they know rationally they are not.

Some phobias can be debilitating to the point where the person affected is unable to live a normal life due to their fears. It is important to realise that phobias can often be successfully treated, and often people go on to be able to overcome their fears with with correct psychological help.

What are the signs of phobias?

Phobia signs are very similar to traditional anxiety symptoms due to this being at the root of the disorder. Symptoms can include:

  • Intense need to visit the toilet
  • Increased heart rate and palpitations
  • Increased sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking hands
  • Feelings unsteady and maybe dizzy
  • Chest tightness
  • Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Feelings of dread and worry
  • Feeling out of touch with reality and your body

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a fear from a phobia, but generally a phobia would be diagnosed if

  • The fear begins to impact daily life
  • The fear has exceeded 6 months
  • The fear is out of proportion to the danger e.g. being fearful of spiders when there is none around.

What causes phobias?

Phobias can develop at any time in a person's life, but specific phobias (intense fears of a specific trigger e.g. snakes) generally begin early in childhood, between the ages of four to eight. These can sometimes be caused by children seeing parents or peers react to a trigger in a negative way, installing a feeling of fear which then grows and manifests into a specific phobia. It is therefore recommended to try and tackle these phobias when they first begin and familiarize children with the things they fear (self-exposure therapy) to allow the fear to dissipate.

Complex phobias, such as agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and crowds) and social phobia (fear of social situations) often develop later in life, from late teens to early adulthood. These often stem from experiencing panic attacks or being shy (social phobia) which then lead to avoiding any situation that could trigger the fear. These can be much more difficult to overcome and people will often find their life is limited due to their complex phobias.

What types of phobias are there?

There are many phobias, but some are more common than others. Social phobia and agoraphobia are some of the most disabling due to the amount of day to day situations that can trigger fear, but more specific phobias such as a fear of snakes may only affect a person should they be close to one. However, sometimes phobias can induce symptoms when the person thinks about their fear or talks about it.

Other common phobias include:

  • Aerophobia - a fear of lying
  • Hypochondria - fear of becoming ill
  • Aquaphobia - fear of water
  • Acrophobia - fear of heights
  • Zoophobia - fear of animals
  • Tunnel phobia - fear of tunnels
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