Phobias are the most common mental disorder in the United States
- effecting more than 10% of the population – mostly women.
Phobias make everyday life terrifying. You’re always on alert and never able to relax. First you’re hesitant, then you start avoiding certain situations, and finally end up stopping them all together. All because of this so called irrational fear that you have absolutely no control of.
It’s embarrassing to have to admit that you can’t go outside to your clothes line because there are spiders on it. Or that you won’t be able to attend the party because you can’t get back inside your front door when it’s dark. You might even turn down a job offer if you have to ride the elevator to get to the office.
People really do think you are strange, but there is nothing strange about this fear. It is real – and your reaction to it is perfectly normal!
So what is a phobia exactly?
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an object or situation that in reality, poses little or no actual danger – which is why it is called an irrational fear.
This type of fear is much more powerful than a normal fear however. It is an intense panic response that makes people jump out of moving cars when a spider is seen, avoid visiting friends that have dogs, or even refuse essential medical treatment that could possibly involve needles.
Unfortunately, the distress is compounded by the fact that sufferers cannot relax and enjoy life because they have to go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation that is feared, which compromises their day-to-day functioning.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the key to diagnosing a phobic disorder is that the fear must be excessive and disproportionate to the situation. Most people who fear heights would not avoid visiting a friend who lived on the top floor of a tall building; however a person with a phobia of heights would. Fear alone does not distinguish a phobia – both fear and avoidance must be evident.
Phobias are much more common than people realize. Actually, they are the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder, affecting more than 12% of the population – mostly women.
However, this of little comfort to the person experiencing this gut-wrenching fear so strongly that it paralyzes them.
Types of Phobias
There are three types of phobias:
- Social phobias — fear of social situations.
- Agoraphobia — fear of being trapped in an inescapable place or situation.
- Specific phobias — fear of a specific object (such as snakes).
There are four major types of specific phobias:
- The natural environment — fear of lightening, water, storms, etc.
- Animal — fear of snakes, rodents, spiders, etc.
- Medical — fear of seeing blood, receiving injections, visiting a doctor, etc.
- Situational — fear of bridges, leaving the home, driving, etc.
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of spiders
- Fear of animals, dogs or cats
- Fear of snakes
- Fear of heights
- Fear or closed spaces
- Fear of storms
- Fear of needles and injections
- Fear of public speaking
- Fear of flying
- Fear of germs
- Fear of illness or death
People with phobias try to avoid what they are afraid of. If they cannot, they may experience a number of symptoms including:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Overwhelming panic
- An uncontrollable need to flee