What is a Phobia?

The definition of the word phobia means fear.  A phobia is an extreme form of anxiety or irrational fear (or aversion) of a "thing" or a "situation".

A phobic reaction is powerful and rapid because you are thrown into a state known as "fight or flight". Breathing quickens, shortness of breath, tense muscles, shaking, tunnel vision, sweating, feeling sick, time seems to  slow down.

When a phobic response is triggered It can be a very frightening experience because it hijacks all rational control until the fear trigger is no longer present.

One of the tell tale signs that you have a phobia is you normally don't show any signs of anxiety until you face the situation or object that you fear.

However, If your phobia is very severe, then even thinking about the phobia can provoke high levels of anxiety.

What causes a phobia?

There doesn’t seem to be one particular cause of most phobias, but there are usually several factors that might play a role.

Although phobias can be picked up at any stage in life, many "specific" phobias tend to start in early childhood. If a childs phobia is not reinforced then the phobic response can naturally fade and sometimes be forgotten as they grow older.

  • For some people the phobia can be linked to a particular incident or trauma; for example, a child who experiences a lot of turbulence on a plane might develop a phobia about flying.
  • Phobias can be "learned responses", picked up in early life – you might develop the same specific phobia as a parent or older sibling. It has also been shown that factors in the family environment, such as parents who are very worried or anxious, can have an effect on the way you cope with anxiety in later life.
  • There does seem to be some evidence that genetics can play a role – some people appear to be born with a tendency to be more anxious than others.

What are the Symptoms of a Phobic Response?

If you have a phobia, you usually won’t have any symptoms until you face the situation or object that you fear. If your phobia is very severe, then even thinking about the object of your phobia can provoke anxiety. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of phobia are: feeling dizzy, shortness of breath, pounding heart, palpitations, chest pain, sweating, nausea, trembling, fear of losing control.

These symptoms can make you feel more anxious, which releases more adrenaline (fight or flight response) and this vicious circle can lead to a full-blown panic attack. Although these feelings will pass, you may feel stressed and frightened by them, and this can lead to feeling out of control and overwhelmed. Afterwards, looking back, you may feel depressed and embarrassed about it.

Why Can’t I Control My Fear Response?

The part of the brain responsible for phobic responses is called the Amygdala and it's job is to label and store any situations considered dangerous. Once a situation or thing has been labelled as dangerous any future contact with the trigger initiates the fight or flight response.

It is a fast and powerful response because it is key to our survival. And because this all occurs in a primative part of the brain the conscious mind cannot control what happens. Basically you can't just tell yourself to stop being anxious.        

Common phobias include: Arachnophobia, flying on planes, using lifts, enclosed spaces, speaking in public, going outside, dentists, doctors, needles, hospitals, driving, the dark, thunder storms, dogs, cats, rats, mice, snakes, fish, clowns, balloons, vegetables and, literally anything else you can think of…



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