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What Is A Phobia?

The word phobia is used to describe a condition in which a severe anxiety reaction is triggered by some situation which does not realistically merit such a response. People with phobias experience an intense fear of an object or situation that does not go away easily and continues for an extended period of time. An important element in the definition of a phobia is the anxiety interferes with an individuals normal daily functioning. Of course, everyone feels scared and anxious at one time or another. These responses can become associated with certain events or situations such like making a speech or driving after being involved in an accident. This certainly does not mean a phobia exists. When the fear persists and begins to restrict desired activities, it has crossed into the definition of a phobia.

A variety of usual symptoms accompany phobias. Some of the possible physiological symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, sweatiness, excessive muscle tension, stomach and gastrointestinal distress, and difficulty breathing or hyperventilation. The psychological symptoms can be an ineer feeling of doom and panic, difficulty concentrating, preoccupation with the feared situation and excessive anxiety. The previously mentioned symptoms are commonly seen in phobias, although it certainly does not mean that they all must be present for this problem to exist. These symptoms can be present in any anxiety disorder.

Some common phobias are:

  • Claustraphobia which involves unrealistic fear of being closed in or trapped.
  • Agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations or places from which escape might be difficult or embarassing if a panic attack occurs. Examples of this can be the use of public transportation, driving, standing in line, grocery stores, situations involving crowds, shopping malls, or being on a bridge. There is also usually a fear that help may not be available if a panic attack should occur in one of these settings. As a result of these fears, the person needs someone they trust to accompany them or they avoid these situations completely.
  • Acrophobia which is the fear of heights. Many phobias are highly specific, effecting the individual in very limited situations and do not necessarily extend into other areas of a person's life. Multiple phobias can exist.
  • Social phobia which is also known as social anxiety disorder is fears involving excessive and unreasonable anxiety in social situations where you may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. Performance anxiety or fear of acting in a way that may cause embarrassment or scrutiny of others, such as eating in public or talking in front of others.
  • Specific phobias or simple phobias involve the fear of a single specific object or situation that provoke panic such as: spiders, snakes, mice, dogs, elevators, water, waves, flying, balloons, catching a specific illness, exposure to blood, etc.

As in many phobias, insight into why the fear began usually does not eliminate the problem. Most phobia victims struggle with the why behind their problem, although this rarely provides a liberating experience.

A common method of treatment includes relaxation training and systematic desensitization. This latter technique involves the establishment of a hierarchy of feared situations with the client visualizing them while in a state of relaxation. The individual can gradually proceed up the hierarchy, often maintaining a relaxed state. Many phobias are very responsive to therapeutic intervention.

Psychological Consultants and Affiliates, Inc.

60 Messimer Drive, Newark, Ohio  43055

Phone 740-522-2230, 800-522-2457

Fax 740-522-6230


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