What Are Phobias?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Are you afraid to fly? Maybe you are afraid to get on an elevator? Or do you have an intense fear of spiders or dogs? These are all types of phobias and they are a type of anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 19.2 million Americans have some type of phobia. If you suffer from a phobia, you are not alone.


    Some common phobias are:


    • Fear of animals or insects
    • Fear of heights, storms or other natural environmental situation
    • Fear of needles or blood
    • Fear of specific situations such as flying, elevators, or small places


    Phobias are common in children but usually are outgrown. When my son was a baby, he was terrified of any man with a beard. It didn't matter if it was a short beard or a long beard, he would scream whenever we came across someone bearded. It was difficult to avoid situations where there may have been someone with a beard, so gratefully, he outgrew this (and today has a small beard himself).

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    Usually, however, phobias develop in adolescence or adulthood and often do not go away without treatment. Fear from a phobia is intense and can occur when someone is in the situation and may occur just thinking or anticipating the situation. For example, if you fear elevators, thinking about needing to ride an elevator can bring on the intense fear.


    When children have phobias (such as the bearded man phobia), they do not understand that such fear is unreasonable, they just know they are afraid and will cry and cling to someone they trust. Adults, however, know that the fear is unreasonable but they cannot overcome it. 


    Many people with phobias will try to avoid any situation that may cause anxiety or panic. This can sometimes interfere with their daily life. Let's take the example of elevators. If you have an intense fear of getting into an elevator, a person can take the stairs to avoid the situation. This may create problems if you need to be on the 20th floor of a building and are running late. After having experienced enough attacks from your phobia, you may try to avoid buildings with elevators altogether. This can limit where you work, where you go, what doctor you see.


    People with phobias can be helped. Behavioral therapy is when a person is gradually introduced to the situation or object that is causing the anxiety. The exposure is slowly increased until the person no longer feels the fear or intense anxiety. Usually, this is completed in steps, with each step continued until the anxiety disappears, and then the next step will be taken. For example, people afraid of flying may become anxious just walking into an airport. This step would be repeated until the person is able to walk into the airport before moving further. This type of treatment is usually done with a trained therapist and has been found to be very helpful.


    If you suffer from a phobia (or more than one), talk with your doctor about your symptoms and ask for a referral to a therapist in your area that may be able to help you. Remember, you are not alone, and you do not need to spend your life afraid, there is help available.



Published On: May 21, 2008