Nearly everyone in the world is scared of something, for example mice or needles. For many people these are minor fears. A fear is a rational response to a situation that possibly poses a threat to our safety. It is normal to experience fear in a dangerous situation. Sometimes these fears can be very serious and interfere with day to day life and create anxiety. This is called a phobia. Phobias are said to affect 11% of the Australian population. Fears vs. Phobias Fear is a natural response that humans, and in fact most animals, have.
Its purpose is to activate our ‘fight or flight response system in case of danger. A phobia is a persistent, overwhelming and exaggerated fear of an object or situation that can affect your ability to function normally at school, work or in social situations Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. Most people who have a phobia are aware that they have it, but they struggle to control their fear. In some cases, just thinking about the phobia can cause the person to panic.
The difference between rational fear and phobias Fear Phobia Feeling nervous when approached by a big snarling dog. Avoiding the park and other public areas in case you see a dog. Getting the jitters if you find a spider crawling on your arm. Not going out into nature (eg. Garden) in the fear that you will see a spider. Feeling queasy while you are giving blood. Fainting at the sight of even smallest drop of blood. In most cases, symptoms of phobias start t show in childhood and early adolescence, but many childhood fears are natural and the child will grow out of it.
According to the Child Anxiety Network, the following fears are common in children and are considered normal: • 0-2 years – Loud noises, separation from parents, strangers and loud objects •3-6 years – Imaginary things (ghosts, monsters, strange sounds, the dark etc. ) •7 – 16 years – Realistic fears (injury, illness, death, natural disaster, animals and performances) Types of Phobias Phobias are generally split into three categories: • Specific phobias Specific phobias are the exaggerated and persistent fear of a certain stimulus.
Specific phobias can be split into five main groups: o Animal or insect phobias: A fear relating to animals or insects, for example snakes and rodents. o Natural environment phobias: A fear relating to nature, for example storms and heights. o Situational phobias: A fear relating to specific situations, for example flying and small spaces. o Blood, injection or injury phobias: A fear relating to medical procedures or blood or injury, for example injections and operations. o Other phobias: A fear relating to other specific phobias, for example clowns and vomiting. • Social phobia Social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder.
It is the fear of social situations where you can be rejected, humiliated or judged by others. Examples of social phobias are fears of public speaking or talking to strangers. • Agoraphobia Agoraphobia is the fear of experiencing anxiety or having a panic attack. Originally it was thought to be about the fear of open spaces and the public. It is caused by fearing no escape or help if an anxiety attack was to happen. The difference between agoraphobia and other specific phobias is that agoraphobia usually is developed after the person has already experienced a panic attack, and fears another one.
People with agoraphobia may far being in a crowd, using public transport, being in open or closed spaces or leaving their home. People that have a phobia are at a higher risk of social isolation, depression, substance abuse and suicide. Symptoms There is a wide range of symptoms of a phobia, from feelings of apprehension to having a major panic attack. Generally the closer you are to your stimulus, the greater your fear will be.
Symptoms of a phobia Physical symptoms Emotional symptoms • Rapid heartbeat • Difficulty breathing • Chest pain/tightness Shaking • Dizziness/lightheadedness • Upset stomach • Hot/cold flashes • Sweating• Feeling anxious, panic or dread • Feeling a need to escape • Feeling detached from oneself • Fear of going crazy • Feeling like you are going to die • Knowing you are exaggerating but not being able to help it • Powerlessness Causes and Risk Factors There is still so much to find out about phobias and the exact cause for them. There are some factors that seem to increase a person’s risk of developing a phobia. •Age People typically develop social phobia by the age of 13.
Symptoms for specific phobias start to show by the age of 10. Agoraphobia commonly occurs before the age of 35, in the late teens and early adulthood. People who fall into these age categories are at a higher risk. • Family History There appears to be a link between an individual’s phobias and those of their parent’s. It’s not known if this is due to genetics or learned behaviour. · Trauma Someone who had been affected by a traumatic experience may fear situations or things associated with it. This may lead to the individual developing a phobia. •Temperament and mentality Your risk may be higher if you’re more sensitive, inhibited or negative.
Diagnosis and Treatment People with phobias are diagnosed based on clinical interviews to see if the patient fits the guidelines for phobias. The doctor will ask questions about any symptoms and medical, psychiatric and social history. The doctor will also make sure that these aren’t symptoms for another illness. Phobias are treated much the same way that many other psychiatric illnesses. Treatments include; · Medication These include antidepressants, sedatives and beta blockers. • Psychotherapy These include relaxation therapy, exposure therapy (gradual, repeated exposure to the stimulus) and cognitive behavioural therapy.