Phobias are a fairly common type of anxiety disorder. These types of anxiety disorders take on many forms. Some people are terrified of dogs, even small, friendly dogs. Some canít fly. Some get physically sick at the thought of speaking in front of a group, even if the group is comprised of their church members. Some become so overcome with fear at the thought of being in public places that they never leave their home.
A phobia is an intense, persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. Phobic anxiety can be crippling to the person that suffers it. The anxiety that the person experiences is out of proportion to the relatively safe object or situation that they face. Complicating the situation is their often-exaggerated avoidance of the source of their fear. The person with a phobia doesnít have to actually encounter what they fear. They can be overcome with anxiety just anticipating that they might find themselves in the feared situation.
Fears such as these are very common. The anxiety associated with these fears, phobic anxiety, is distinguishable from other forms of anxiety only in that it occurs specifically in relation to a certain object or situation. The anxiety associated with phobias is characterized by physiological symptoms such as flushing of the face, nausea, a choking feeling, a rapid, pounding heartbeat, faintness, perspiration, trembling, diarrhea, and frequent urination. Some people with phobias are able to confront their fears, but suffer greatly while struggling through the encounter. More commonly, they go to great lengths to escape their fear by avoiding the object or situation that provokes it. This avoidance greatly impairs the freedom of a person with a phobia.
Mental health professionals recognize three major types of phobias. Simple phobias are the unreasonable fear of specific objects or situations. Simple phobias include the fear of animals, closed spaces, spiders, and heights. Simple phobias might be begin when a person actually encounters a situation or object that presents a risk; but when the excessive anxiety and fear persist and occur in situations that present little or no risk it is called a phobia. The second type, social phobia, consists fears of being embarrassed or humiliated in public, of being judged by others or singled out. Agoraphobia, the third type, is a fear of open public places and situations from which escape is difficult. In avoiding these types of places and situations the person with agoraphobia may eventually become homebound.
Because many people with phobias think that their fears are silly, childish, and embarrassing, they often try to conceal them. They go from doctor to doctor seeking relief from the physical symptoms that accompany their phobia. Often, the doctor focuses on treating the physical complaints (such as stomach pains, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat) that the symptoms connection to the intense fear and anxiety related to the phobia is not made. Unless asked, the patient might not mention their fears. It is important to know that most of the pain and disruption caused by phobias can be treated.
Behavioral therapy is remarkably effective in treating phobias. Systematic desensitization is one behavioral technique that involves gradually confronting the phobic person to situations or objects that are increasingly similar to the feared ones. Another is exposure therapy. In this technique the phobic person is repeatedly (under controlled circumstances) exposed to feared objects or situations so they can see that no harm befalls them and the fear gradually fades. Medication intervention has proven to be effective in treating some of the symptoms of phobias.