February 8, 2024

Specific Phobias and how we can

What are specific phobias?

A specific phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling, or animal. A phobia is not necessarily just something you are afraid of - the response tends to be more pronounced and can have an effect on how you live your daily life. The response to the phobic stimuli is usually considered to be irrational or exaggerated by observers, but for the individual involved the sense of danger and experience of anxiety can be very distressing and overwhelming. Most people find a simple and isolated phobia is easier to cope with if it is something that can be avoided. However, if a phobia becomes severe it can start to restrict daily functioning or impact on a person’s wellbeing, particularly if avoiding the stimuli is causing them to miss out. For example, an individual may feel compelled to turn down a desired job as they are fearful of travelling by train to work.

Actions that can help

  1. There are several effective treatments that can help with the anxiety caused by specific phobias, including: self-help and guided self-help, psychological therapy, and/or medication.
  2. You may find it helpful to join a self-help or support group. There are many resources that can be shared that will help you manage your phobia.
  3. Physical activity and exercise can help to ease some of the common symptoms of anxiety.
  4. By being mindful of your diet and sleep and engaging in regular exercise, you can help to improve your overall mental wellbeing which can build resilience and resources. It’s important to look after yourself.
  5. There is no one way to treat a specific phobia. If self-help isn’t working, reach out for additional help or support from a friend, family member, or healthcare professional.

Symptoms

A specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may experience symptoms of anxiety when thinking of the phobic stimuli or you may only experience anxiety symptoms when in the presence of your phobia. People who have a phobia will usually try to avoid contact with the object or situation which triggers their anxiety.

The most common symptoms caused by a specific phobia are:

  • avoidance behaviour
  • panic attacks
  • unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate or palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of fainting
  • feelings of dread
  • fear of dying

Treatment

Many people with a phobia can manage their anxiety by avoiding potential triggers. Although this may help in the short-term, in the longer term the phobia and anxiety remains and can significantly impact day-to-day functioning.

There is no single treatment for specific phobias and sometimes it is recommended to try a combination of treatments. The three main treatment types include: self-help, different kinds of psychological therapy, and medication. Self-help may include relaxation techniques to cope with anxiety, imagery work such as visualising successfully dealing with a situation, or a self-help group to gain support and share experiences with others. Psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness based therapies have been shown to be particularly effective.

How to get help

To access treatment for your phobia, you could start by talking to your GP as they will be able to refer you to a specialist for further assessment. It can be difficult to start the conversation and it is important to try not to let feelings such as embarrassment or shame get in the way of getting the help you may need. Experiencing a specific phobia is common and by starting a conversation with a friend, family member or healthcare professional, you will be taking the first step towards recovery and improving your wellbeing.

Specific Phobia - Five facts

  1. Specific phobias usually develop in childhood and can persist throughout the lifetime. However, some phobias can develop later in life, although this is less common.
  2. Between 15%-20% of us will experience some kind of phobia at some point in our lifetime.
  3. The onset of a specific phobia has been linked to learned behaviour, traumatic events, and our biology or genes.
  4. Phobias can affect people of all ages, gender, backgrounds, or socio-economic status.
  5. The most common specific phobias are: fear of animals, fear of the environment (such as storms or earthquakes), fear of blood/injury, fear of certain situations (such as travelling by aeroplane), fear of death, fear of specific bodily sensations, or fear of incontinence.

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