Specific Phobias

New places, high bridges, old elevators may make all of us a bit uneasy or even frightened. We might try to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, but most people generally manage to control their fears and carry out daily activities without incident.

But people with specific phobias, or strong irrational fear reactions, work hard to avoid common places, situations, or objects even though they know there’s no threat or danger. The fear may not make any sense, but they feel powerless to stop it.

People who experience these seemingly excessive and unreasonable fears in the presence of or in anticipation of a specific object, place, or situation have a specific phobia.

Having phobias can disrupt daily routines, limit work efficiency, reduce self-esteem, and place a strain on relationships because people will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable and often-terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.

While some phobias develop in childhood, most seem to arise unexpectedly, usually during adolescence or early adulthood. Their onset is usually sudden, and they may occur in situations that previously did not cause any discomfort or anxiety.

Specific phobias commonly focus on animals, insects, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, dental or medical procedures, and elevators.

Although people with phobias realise that their fear is irrational, even thinking about it can often cause extreme anxiety.

Symptoms
Symptoms of having a specific phobia often include uncomfortable and terrifying feelings of anxiety:

  • a feeling of imminent danger or doom
  • the need to escape
  • heart palpitations
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
  • a feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded
  • a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
  • a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • a fear of dying
  • tingling sensation
  • chills or heat flush

It’s important to note the difference between everyday anxiety and a phobia:

Everyday Anxiety Phobia
Feeling queasy while climbing a tall ladder Refusing to attend your best friend’s wedding because it’s on the 25th floor of a hotel
Worrying about taking off in an airplane during a lightning storm Turning down a big promotion because it involves air travel
Feeling anxious around your neighbour’s dog Avoiding visiting your neighbours for fear of seeing a dog

Source: Anxiety Disorders Association of America

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