(click to enlarge)
Palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and chills – if you’ve ever had a panic attack from a personal phobia, you no doubt recognize these symptoms. They’re feelings you can’t explain and have a hard time defending when people around you say you should “suck it up” or “get over it.” Now a new study concludes that when people say you should face your fears, they’re giving you good advice.
What kind of phobias do people have?
Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that can be broken down into three groups: social phobia , specific phobia, and agoraphobia. The term “social phobia” applies to fear and anxiety caused by exposure to particular social situations in which a person feels he or she is being judged. Common examples include fear of public speaking, public performance, eating with others, using public bathrooms, attending parties, and even signing a document before a witness.
A specific phobia is an irrational fear of a certain object or situation, such as spiders, heights, dust, storms, flying, needles, small spaces, bridges, dentists, and, believe it or not, asparagus.
Agoraphobia pertains to a person’s fear of open spaces; including crowds, busy stores, restaurants, and noisy gymnasiums. In more severe cases of agoraphobia, victims are afraid to leave their homes.
SLIDESHOW: 9 Unusual Phobias That People Really Have
So the results of a study regarding debilitating arachnophobia—fear of spiders—offers hope for successful treatments.
How did they do the study?
The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University launched the first study to examine immediate and long-term brain changes after phobia treatment. The researchers documented the brain’s ability to reorganize itself to reduce fear as a result of therapy. They worked with 12 adults who had severe arachnophobia, which in some cases prevented people from walking on grass for fear of coming in contact with a spider, avoiding their home for days if they suspected a spider was present, and even cause them to panic even if they just looked at photos of spiders.
Participants were first briefed on factual information about spiders so they would understand the irrationality of their fear. Next they were presented with a live caged tarantula and encouraged to approach the spider slowly by taking small steps until they were able to touch the outside of the cage. Once they accomplished this, they were asked to touch the tarantula in a series of gradual ways; first with a paint brush, then a glove, and eventually with their bare hands. A follow-up appointment was scheduled for six months later to see if they were still able to confront their fear.