What Is Phobia?
A phobia is defined as an irrational and intense fear of a specific object or situation. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and are the leading type of mental illness in adult women. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from a phobia.
Phobias vary in severity from person to person. Some people are able to manage their symptoms and face the feared object, albeit with a great sense of terror. Others are motivated by the phobia to avoid the feared situation, sometimes at great personal cost.
What Are The Common Symptoms?
Phobias can be divided into three types: specific phobia, social phobia and agoraphobia. Although the symptoms of each type will vary, there are some symptoms common to all phobias.
- Terror: A persistent and overwhelming fear of the object or situation.
- Physical Symptoms: Dizziness, shaking, palpitations.
- Obsessive Thoughts: Difficulty thinking about anything other than the fear.
- Desire to Flee: An intense instinct to leave the situation.
- Anticipatory Anxiety: Persistent worrying about upcoming events that involve the phobic object or situation
One of the most important steps in diagnosing a phobia is deciding whether the symptoms are better explained by another disorder. Phobias can be traced to specific, concrete fears that adult sufferers recognize as irrational.
The fact that the fear is concrete separates phobias from disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, in which the anxiety is more broad-based. Phobia sufferers are able to pinpoint an exact object or situation that they fear.
Being able to recognize the fear as irrational separates anxiety disorders from the psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. People who suffer from psychotic disorders genuinely believe that the fear is based on a real danger, though the nature of the danger appears illogical to others.
No matter what type of phobia you have, it’s likely to produce the following reactions:
When to consult a doctor?
- A feeling of uncontrollable anxiety when you’re exposed to the source of your fear — sitting on an airplane, for instance, or walking into a large party
- The feeling that you must do everything possible to avoid what you fear
- The inability to function normally because of your anxiety
- Often, the knowledge that your fears are unreasonable or exaggerated, but feeling powerless to control them
- Physical as well as psychological reactions, including sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, a feeling of panic and intense anxiety
- In some cases, anxiety just thinking about what you fear
- In children, possibly tantrums, clinging or crying
An unreasonable fear can be an annoyance — having to take the stairs instead of an elevator, for instance — but it isn’t considered a phobia unless it seriously disrupts your life. If anxiety affects your ability to function at work or socially, consider seeking medical or psychological treatment. Most people can be helped with the right therapy.