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Overcome Phobias: Understanding and Solutions

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder where the sufferer experiences a persistent dread of a specific situation, creature, or place. It is characterized by an abnormal fear attached to a particular event.

For example, David, developed a phobic response to snakes, after being cornered in the bathroom one time when he was a teenager. David is now 32 years old and still “runs a mile” when he sees snakes – even at the zoo. He, like all sufferers, has an overwhelming desire to keep away from anything that remotely reminds him of snakes, and he chooses not to go to the garden or go on holidays in the country because of it.

Phobic individuals will do anything to avoid their particular perceived source of danger, which, is greater in their own minds, than what is there in reality. Sufferers will experience great distress when confronted by their “danger” and it can interfere with normal life… quite severely if not taken control of.

Anyone who suffers from phobias has a hard time and if they have a combination of phobias, their life can be really horrible, stressful, and tiring. It is very exhausting to have all those fears and to continually go through panic and anxiety… adrenaline pumping, heart racing, screaming or yelling, and running away hysterically…

Symptoms of Phobia

The most common symptom of a phobia is a panic-induced feeling when exposed to objects or situations. While most people feel trepidation at some point in their life over an activity, such as public speaking or being shocked over the sight of a bug in your house, someone with a phobia of an object or situation is not only afraid of said object or situation but also of the idea of it happening or occurring or being around an object and they take on behavior to avoid it.

Phobias occur in people of all ages. Children who suffer from certain phobias such as being afraid of the dark, or of objects like clowns, tend to outgrow the phobic behavior.

Many times, in adults, phobic behavior will manifest itself in the preparation for an activity to occur. They will be scared of putting themselves in a situation for something bad to occur to them and therefore will then experience physical symptoms of their fear.

Physical symptoms associated with phobic behavior include:
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling of choking
  • Shortness of breath or smothered sensation
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
  • Hot and cold flashes/sweating
The intensity of a person’s symptoms with phobic behavior tends to lend itself to the overall proximity of a person from encountering or experiencing the object or situation they fear. For instance, a person who is afraid of flying in an airplane may not have symptoms of stress or panic until they are actually on the plane and the cabin door is shut. Symptoms of phobias are directly related to if the person feels they can get away from the situation they are afraid of.

Causes of Phobia

It is believed that a phobia can be caused by a combination of biological and life factors. A phobia can stem from a variety of circumstances including situations based on emotional trauma, disturbances, and unpleasant situations experienced by an individual at any point in their life. Many times emotional trauma is something that is deep-seated and appears in a person’s behavior when a memory develops into fear, hence becoming a phobia.

Many intense feelings are remembered in the body through nerve endings. Therefore, when a person is afraid of something a particular feeling is remembered and released through these nerves. This feeling may intensify over the years and develop into a fear of the feeling itself.

In addition, studies show that genetics can play a part in the development of a phobia as there are instances of twins who were separated at birth developing a fear of the same things, even though they were raised in different places.

Another group of phobias looks to be focused on specific cultures, where a group of people in one race or geographic area will form a fear of certain behaviors. This is very different from certain social phobias that can form in groups of people regardless of culture or ethnicity.

Typically, a combination of factors must be present for a phobia to develop and many times phobic behavior is also furthered because of some other medical condition or anxiety problem.

Agoraphobia: Fear of leaving the house alone, fear of crowds, fear of open spaces

'Agora' in the Greek language refers to an open space, most typically a marketplace. And 'phobia' is an intensely irrational fear. So it suggests that agoraphobia is an intense and abnormal fear of open or public places. But, this meaning does not completely explain the true meaning of this condition.

For the agoraphobic, the fear is not necessarily associated with 'open spaces'. The central feature of agoraphobia is intense fear (panic and anxiety response) of being in certain situations in which escape is difficult or potentially embarrassing, or where help is not readily available. This may include many places that would not meet the definition of 'open spaces', including many confined spaces. Such situations may include being home alone, leaving home alone, traveling by public transportation like bus, train, or car, being in an elevator, being in a crowd, being in a shopping mall or large store, being on a bridge or even standing in a queue. Fear of leaving the house and fear of crowds are quite commonly found symptoms of agoraphobia

The fear associated with agoraphobia results in behavioral changes to avoid fearful situations. An individual with agoraphobia may survey for available escape routes and avoid situations where an exit is not easily available. This leads to avoidant behavior that may include only driving on certain roads, always sitting near the door in meetings or school settings, avoiding crowded places, or avoiding any place where it may be difficult to escape or to get to an exit. In extreme cases, the fear may become so debilitating that the individual will not leave the house alone or become home-bound altogether.

In most cases, agoraphobia is typically triggered by the onset of panic attacks associated with panic disorder. Approximately one-third of people with panic disorder will develop agoraphobia and the risk is increased if appropriate diagnosis and panic disorder treatment is not begun during the early stages. Find a detailed discussion here → Panic Disorder With and Without Agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia in Children

A child suffering from agoraphobia may find it difficult to be in places or situations that they fear, most commonly school, social gatherings, parties, or supermarkets. This fear may be triggered by a past experience that caused embarrassment or fear.

In school, it may be possible that he is being bullied by his peers or it is also possible that in class, he is being mocked at or being made fun of. It could have been caused by a mistake in his schoolwork or simply because of the way he looked or the way he carried himself.

He may have also developed a fear of attending social gatherings such as children’s parties. Due to the way he is being treated in school, he might have formed the belief that when he attends gatherings where the same set of children are present, he will receive similar treatment..

Parents are sometimes notorious for leaving their kids behind, either in a supermarket or a grocery store. It could be that a mom is in such a hurry that she forgets she has a child with her. Then, when she realizes that she left him, he has already become frantic, looking for his mom.

All these occurrences may very well develop a sense of fear for these particular situations and may lead to what is known as agoraphobia. Some of the most common symptoms to look out for when dealing with this kind of anxiety disorder are: excessive sweating, nausea, fatigue, trembling, palpitations, and “pins and needles” sensations in the hands or feet.

Not all children as susceptible to this behavior disorder. There are certain predispositions that we need to know: genetics or parents who may have this at some point, temperament and overall personality of the child, life events, and learned experiences (such as the ones described above).

There is help available and through various types of therapies, a kid with anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia can be corrected at the onset. Parents need not panic and lose hope because, through proper guidance and support, they will be able to overcome the obstacles of this dreaded behavior abnormality.

  See also: Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking

How to Overcome Phobia

Depending on the severity of your phobia, it is entirely probable to overcome it on your own through exposure or imagined exposure to the situation or activity and calming exercises that can allow you to “get close” to what you are afraid of. This type of treatment is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is possible to do this on your own or with the assistance of others.

Another type of treatment encourages you to get close physically to the object or situation that you are afraid of. This is called systematic desensitization. For example, imagine you have a fear of closed-in spaces. You may start your treatment by trying to spend time in a closet with the door open. You will work to slowly close the closet door without panicking or being afraid. Over time, you will become comfortable with the situation and eventually, you may be able to ride in an elevator without being afraid, which is a typical fear of someone who is claustrophobic.

Treatments for Phobias

Often, if people have phobias, they can find ways to avoid their problem and avoid it forever, thereby not requiring treatments. Other phobias are not possible to avoid, such as claustrophobia as experienced in lifts. If you want to live or work in a tall building, this would really prevent you from getting in and out of the door.

A lady had a phobic response to injections. When we finally dealt with it, she got over it immediately and signed up and became a nurse. What a pity she waited until she was 50 years old to do this. She simply used an NLP technique and required no medication.

Some people will use a combination of psychotherapy - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and prescribed drugs. Therapy is aimed at reducing the symptoms of fear and anxiety, therefore better able to deal with their reactions to their source of fear.

Phobia Medications

Antidepressants – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine and sertraline are commonly used for phobia. They control serotonin levels in the brain and result in better moods in general. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that helps cells communicate – known as the natural high.

Beta-blockers – these can reduce the symptoms of palpitations as well as trembling limbs – as they are primarily used for high blood pressure. It can also help to control voice quivers. This may help if you suffer stage fright and need to get on stage for your job.

Benzodiazepines may help reduce anxiety symptoms. Examples include lorazepam, alprazolam, diazepam, or chlordiazepoxide.

Patients should be monitored carefully because sedatives can become addictive. Patients with a history of alcoholism should not be given sedatives.


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