A phobia is an excessive or extreme fear of a particular object (e.g., heights) or situation (e.g., going out in public), while knowing that the fear is irrational and excessive. A phobia is different from a justifiable fear. For example, being afraid of being bitten by a snake when you are hiking in an area known for having a large rattlesnake population is not a phobia but a justifiable fear.
The feared situation or object must cause some type of interference in one’s life and/or be very distressing to be considered a phobia. For example, Peter refuses to leave his house for he is afraid that he will embarrass himself in public; Amanda avoids driving on highways for she is afraid that she will get into an accident and die; Mary refuses to eat chicken in a restaurant for she fears it will not be cooked properly and she will get sick and vomit.
Exposure to the feared object or situation usually causes an immediate anxious response, which may lead to a panic attack (anxiety attack); this is an overwhelming surge of fear accompanied by intense symptoms of physical arousal, such as shortness of breath, heaviness in the chest, shaky, heart palpitations, feeling light headed, dizzy or faint. Often times, people mistake a panic attack for a heart attack when it is in its most intense form.
People with phobias tend to avoid the feared situation or object or endures it while experiencing a great deal of discomfort. The fear and avoidance interferes with the person’s normal routine, functioning, and/or relationships.
The avoidant behavior creates a vicious cycle that is detrimental. Avoidance only serves to increase avoidance. Therefore, the individual never feels confident that they can cope with the feared situation or object. This serves to increase the intensity of the phobia and fear and increases the avoidant response.
Some common types of phobias are:
Agoraphobia: This is the most common form. This is characterized by being out in the open and having the fear that you will be in a situation where escape might be difficult or impossible or that you will have a panic attack and you will not be able to cope with it, help will be available, or that you will embarrass yourself. Some people avoid stores, highways, or other public places where there is an abundance of people.
Social Phobia: This is another common anxiety disorder where people have a fear of humiliation or embarrassment in settings where they might be exposed to being judged or scrutinized, or where your performance may be evaluated. Public speaking, crowds, using public bathrooms, being watched, taking exams, are examples of a social phobia.
Other phobias include the fear of: heights, elevators, airplanes, dentist, doctors, needles, blood, animals, insects, ladders, small rooms, foods, closed spaces and many more.
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