The word derives its meaning from the Greek word (Phobos) meaning aversion or fear. A Phobia is an irrational fear of an object or situation. It generally results from the onset of fear and is present for more than 6 months. The fear is so much that the person goes to extreme lengths to avoid it sometimes even risking their own life.
Categories of Phobias
There are three categories of phobias according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, they are:
- Specific phobias – certain objects or situation that arises fear in the person. Examples of fear of heights, fear of holes, cats, etc.
- Social phobia – the person has a fear of social situations and tries to avoid it in any way they could. People judging them is their worst nightmare. The idea of large social gatherings is terrifying for them.
- Agoraphobia – the person fears that they might not be able to escape from a particular situation. It can happen both in confined and open places. They are at a higher risk of having a panic disorder.
Symptoms of Phobia
The physical symptoms of phobia include
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of breath
- Chest pain
- Dry mouth
- Choking sensation
- Fear from a certain situation or object
- Lost sense of reality etc
- Not able to function properly when exposed to the trigger
- Uncontrollable anxiety and
- Fear of avoiding the object or situation at any cost.
Phobias are diagnosable mental disorders. It prevents them to function normally and may even lead to panic attacks. Individuals are aware that their fear is irrational but they cannot control the fear reaction. According to the statistics people affected by phobias are around 6-8% in the world. Women are affected twice as more often than men. Typical onset begins from around 10 to 17 years of age. Older people are at a lesser risk of developing one. People who have phobias are at a high risk of suicide.
Causes of Phobias
Some fears are learned from the environment around us. Example: fear for touching a wire after we have learned that we might get shocked. Some by observing others i.e. if a child sees that the parent is afraid of a particular animal, then they also start to develop fear from that particular being. Researchers have linked it to the Amygdala, which lied behind the pituitary gland in the brain. The amygdala triggers the fight or flight hormones. They put the body and the mind in a highly alert and stressed state.
- Systematic desensitization – It was introduced by Wolpe, a technique for treating phobias or irrational fear. The client is interviewed to elicit fear-provoking situations and then asked to think about the least anxiety-provoking the situation. After a certain time, they move up in the hierarchy. And then over the course of time, the person manages to maintain relaxation along with thinking about the situations.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – It has been one of the most effective therapy in dealing with phobias in children and adolescents. The events which cause distress are noted. The irrational beliefs that people hold onto are challenged. Gradually the person tries to get the sense that the fears or beliefs are irrational are must be excluded from their mind. Thus, there is a reduction in psychological distress.
- Medications – They can help in regulating fear of a particular object or situation. Sedatives like benzodiazepines help in regulating the anxiety they feel. Antidepressants like SSRIs act on serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that impacts mood to a great extent.