A phobia is an anxiety disorder defined by an extreme or irrational persistent fear of/or aversion to an object or situation. People with phobias often adjust their life to avoid situations/objects they fear. This can lead to difficulty maintaining jobs, hobbies, relationships, and general life satisfaction. This fear most often exceeds the actual threat. When faced with this fear, a person will experience intense distress, which can sometimes lead to panic attacks and avoidance. Millions of people in the U.S. have phobias, with many untreated.
A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of a specific trigger that may not occur in every day life (such as snakes, heights, spiders, etc.). Agoraphobia results when fear of situations in which escape is difficult if a panic attack occurs
Symptoms common among most phobias:
- sensation of uncontrollable anxiety when exposed to the source of fear
- feeling that the source of that fear must be avoided at all costs
- not being able to function properly when exposed to the trigger
- acknowledgment that the fear is irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated, combined with an inability to control the feelings
A person is likely to experience feelings of panic and intense anxiety when exposed to their phobia.
Physical effects of these sensations can include:
- abnormal breathing
- accelerated heartbeat
- hot flushes or chills
- a choking sensation
- chest pains or tightness
- butterflies in the stomach
- pins and needles
- dry mouth
- confusion and disorientation
The most common phobias in the U.S. include:
- Claustrophobia: Fear of being in constricted, confined spaces
- Acrophobia: Fear of heights
- Aerophobia: Fear of flying
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
- Driving phobia: Fear of driving a car
- Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
- Erythrophobia: Fear of blushing
- Hypochondria: Fear of becoming ill
- Zoophobia: Fear of animals
- Aquaphobia: Fear of water
- Blood, injury, and injection (BII) phobia: Fear of injuries causing blood
- Escalaphobia: Fear of escalators
- Tunnel phobia: Fear of tunnels
- Nomophobia: the fear of being without a cell phone or computer.
What happens in the phobic brain:
Phobias are often linked to the amygdala, which lies behind the pituitary gland in the brain. The amygdala can trigger the release of “fight-or-flight” hormones. These put the body and mind in a highly alert and stressed state.
There are a number of treatment approaches for phobias, and the effectiveness of each approach depends on the person and their type of phobia.