Almost all of us are afraid of something. It may be a person, a situation, an object or anything else. Fear and phobia are two terms that we link with the feeling of being scared. But are they the same? Carolyn Rodriguez, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care, says “Normal fears don’t interfere with an individual’s ability to work, go to social outings or have relationships, whereas phobias might. Being around the feared situation or object can also cause panic attacks, which are accompanied by symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating and trembling.”
Scientifically, phobia starts where fear ends. Phobia is the clinical manifestation of fear that is categorized as a separate Anxiety Disorder and requires to be treated with different Types of Counseling.
For example, you are afraid of social gatherings. This is fear. But when this fear starts making you avoid important social functions and you feel an uncontrollable urge not to face people, this will surely be regarded as ‘phobia’.
Symptoms of Phobia
Phobia is way more severe than fear and requires professional guidance in order to recover. The symptoms of phobia are both physiological and psychological.
- Rapid heartbeat and pulse
- Numbness of muscles
- Dry mouth
- Feeling anxious
- Wanting to run away from the situation/person/object that you fear
- The fear is beyond control
- The fear interferes with normal functioning, making the person preoccupied with thoughts about the object of fear.
- Feeling helpless when confronted with the object of fear.
Types of Phobia
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) 5 has given 3 subtypes of phobia.
- Specific Phobia – It involves intense fear of specific things like dogs (cynophobia), heights (acrophobia), closed spaces (claustrophobia), etc.
- Social phobia – This involves intense fear of social situations and gatherings. The fear is unbearable and the sufferer deliberately becomes aloof from any social situation that would aggravate the fear.
- Agoraphobia – This is the fear for being in situations which are perceived hard to escape from.
What causes Phobia
There are several views about what causes phobia. While some researches emphasize on the role of upbringing and observational learning, some psychologists focus on the genetics and brain functions associated with developing phobia. No single cause is enough to make a person phobic – a combination of different factors are responsible, some of which are discussed below.
- Genetic studies suggest that anxiety runs in families. Those who have a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to develop phobia than those who don’t.
- Phobia is often the result of observational learning. For example, a child who has always seen her mother scream at the sight of a cockroach, will grow up believing that cockroach is a thing to be scared of.
- There are also studies that indicate certain neurotransmitters like GABA, serotonin, and norepinephrine to be associated with causing anxiety disorders like phobia or OCD.
- Unresolved conflicts at the subconscious levels can also manifest themselves as a phobia.
It is easy to criticize and make fun of the apparently illogical phobias. But for the sufferers, it brings huge distress and they feel helpless at the face of confronting their fear. Psychotherapy and medicine helps in a good prognosis and early diagnosis of phobia may result in complete cure. Some useful ways in treating phobia are discussed below.
- Medicinal treatment – Group of drugs called Benzodiazepines (anxiolytic drugs) are helpful in treating phobia. They balance the neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain and diminishes the effects of phobia on the person’s physical and mental health.
- Systematic Desensitization or Exposure Therapy – This is the most popular technique of treating phobia. Here the person is slowly exposed to the object of fear and is trained to control his response. The therapist starts by making the person imagine the feared situation and progressively makes the client confront his fear under the therapist’s guidance. It is the most effective way of dealing with any phobia. “For many people, the effects of exposure therapy are lasting, and research continues to support its efficacy for treating anxiety, phobias, and many other mental health issues,” says psychotherapist Mark Pfeffer.
- Hypnotherapy – This is not a very conventional way for treating phobia nowadays. It is mainly used to help the person know his subconscious conflicts and help him fight with them to get rid of the phobia. Performed under the supervision of a hypnotherapist, hypnosis uproots the cause permanently. “Hypnosis helps patients to reduce their distress and have positive expectations about the outcomes of surgery,” Guy H. Montgomery, PhD says. “I don’t think there is any magic or mind control.”
Phobia can have long-lasting effects in our lives. So never feed your fears ; face them, challenge them and never let your fear be bigger than your faith.