What is …. a phobia

A phobia is an extreme, persistent, overwhelming, debilitating or irrational fear or aversion to something such as a place, object, situation, animal, medical treatment or feeling. It is much more intense than a fear response and can in some case be classed as an anxiety disorder. It is also a persistent event that can reoccur. A phobia can lead to a restricted behaviour pattern to avoid the phobia and have a significant impact on someone’s life, home, job and activates.

Symptoms may include:

  • dizziness and light-headedness
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate/palpitations
  • chest pain
  • chocking
  • shortness of breath or gasping
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach
  • feelings of unreality
  • preoccupied with the fear object
  • numbness
  • out of control
  • detached
  • overwhelmed

There are many types of phobia but often they fall into 2 categories: specific/simple phobias based on one object or situation – like spiders, or complex phobias – like agoraphobia. Simple/specific phobias often (not always) stem from childhood and adolescence. Complex phobias are more often associated with adult trauma or fear.  

Some examples of specific phobias are: animal phobias – dogs, spiders, snakes; natural environment phobias – heights, water, darkness, germs; situational phobias – flying, the dentist, small spaces or escalators; sexual phobias – sexual acts, fear of STI’s; body-based phobias – blood, vomit/vomiting, needles, choking, medical procedures, childbirth; other phobias can also include foods, objects or costumed characters. Some examples of complex phobias are agoraphobia, social phobia.

Phobias do not have a single or simple cause, there can be a number of associated factors such as association with a traumatic event,  learned response from childhood or watching someone else’s response, a genetic component can also be evidenced, some scholars have even suggested humans can have primal fear responses like those to dark or fire.

What happens in the brain in a phobia reaction? Those areas of the brain that store and recall dangerous or potentially deadly events are triggered by something (spider/height etc) causing to the body to have an inappropriate stress reaction to the object/event. This is because phobias are often linked to the amygdala which lies behind the pituitary gland in the brain, the amygdala triggers the release of fight, flight, freeze hormone reaction.

Phobias are not usually formally diagnosed as most people with a phobia are fully aware of the problem and do not need a medical diagnosis, you already know if you scream at a spider. People often choose to live with their phobia especially if it is something both avoidable and unavoidable like heights or spiders. Others, usually those with complex phobias, may find their phobia debilitating and seek medical/professional help

It has been suggested that almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. Simple phobias can be treated with exposure therapy through gradual exposure to the object, animal, place or situation that causes fear and anxiety. Or hypnotherapy can help with simple phobias to alter subconscious beliefs and reactions. Mindfulness can help with relaxation and reduce impact of symptoms. Treating complex phobias often takes longer and involves talking therapies, such counselling, psychotherapy, CBT (identify link between feeling and behaviour and alter this pattern), medication (antidepressants, beta blockers and tranquilisers).

If you are struggling with phobias, would like support with mental health issues or you’d like video, telephone or face to face counselling in the Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme or Staffordshire area please do contact Wright Minds at laura@wrightminds.co.uk or on 07598810304