Although the fear of danger or dangerous situations is necessary to our survival, having to deal with extreme or irrational fears day-to-day isn’t something anyone can live with peacefully. A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person has an irrational or extreme fear of something of either an object, creature, or situation which does not trigger an extreme reaction in most people. People with phobias become so full of stress and anxiety when faced with the subject of their phobia that it keeps them from being able to carry out regular tasks.
Causes of Phobias
The medical community is currently still uncertain of the actual causes of phobias. However, there are many theories which attempt to explain the possible causes. These include, for example, an internal conflict within one’s conscience, prior negative experiences with the object of their fear, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Another cause may be related to a person’s genetic makeup, owing to findings that suggest people who suffer from phobias are likely to have family who also suffer from phobias.
Nonetheless, these causes may only go so far in explaining why some sufferers experience phobias. There are, as of yet, no sure clinical techniques available that can be used to assess the causes of all types of phobias.
Symptoms of Phobias
Phobia sufferers will experience irregular symptoms when they come into contact with the subject of their phobia. These include, for example, muscle contractions, headaches, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, hand trembling, mouth trembling, and lightheadedness.
Generally, doctors can diagnose a phobia by evaluating a patient’s medical history during their consultation. It is essential that patients describe each and every symptom they experience in addition to answering any questions that the doctor may ask honestly and in detail so that the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.
Those suffering from one or more phobias will have an extreme and irrational fear of something, and while they may be themselves aware that they should not be so afraid of it, they are still unable to control that fear. When a phobia sufferer encounters the object of their fear, they may suffer from any of the aforementioned symptoms to the extent that it could leave them feeling tormented and unable to carry out activities in their daily life. In extreme cases, it could even have such a negative effect on their mental wellbeing that it may cause them to act on negative impulses.
Phobias are categorized into the following 3 main groups:
- Specific Phobias: These are the common forms of phobia, such as a fear of snakes, cockroaches, butterflies, sharp objects, the sight of blood, heights (vertigo), and the dark.
- Agoraphobia: These are phobias in which people avoid places or situations which make them feel trapped. Examples include being afraid of crowded places, being afraid of tight spaces, being afraid of rooms with no windows, being afraid to sit at the back of a minivan, being afraid to enter an MRI scanning machine, or being afraid of airplanes.
- Social Phobia: Patients suffering from social phobias are afraid of social situations that cause them to be the center of attention, such as speaking at the front of a room, speaking through a microphone or even getting on a bus via the front doors.
The 2 main techniques that doctors use to treat a phobia are as follows:
- Behavioral Therapy: This is the main form of treatment. It takes the form of a graded exposure to the object of the patient’s phobia. The process begins by exposing the patient to something that they are slightly afraid of until they have conquered their fear of it, then exposing them to their more extreme fears one by one, gradually increasing in intensity each time until they reach and conquer their main phobia. This method depends heavily on the patient’s cooperation.
- Pharmacotherapy: This treatment is used to treat specific patients who do not want to enter into behavioral therapy. Medication such as anti-depressants, antipsychotic medication, antispasmodic medication, or beta blockers may be prescribed to these groups of patients to enable them to reduce their levels of fear to the extent that they can enter into behavioral therapy. Once patients have achieved success through behavioral therapy, doctors will gradually reduce their medication (as medication alone is incapable of completely curing a phobia). However, if the medication is halted too soon, the phobia could return intensely.