Overcoming Fears and Phobias
Fear is a basic survival instinct that is programmed into your brain to help you stay away from danger.
It works like a warning system alerting you to the threat of harmful objects, animals, places, or even other people. When your mind senses a life-threatening situation, it sends signals to your body to prepare to fight or flee. This makes fear a handy defense mechanism for protecting and keeping you alive. Without it, you may carelessly rush into danger or fail to avoid it, leading to serious injury, ill-health, or even death.
The Fear Reaction
When you encounter a dangerous animal or object, your mind and body will immediately undergo a series of biochemical and physiological processes. Once your brain determines that a threat exists, it will activate your nervous system and prepare your body to act.
In a split second, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released, priming your body for fight or flight. Your heart rate increases, sweat breaks out to keep you cool, while your muscles tense in readiness for a confrontation or quick getaway.
These reactions, among others, are what we experience as fear; that intense feeling of anxiety, stress, pressure, and nervousness.
Is it Fear or Phobia?
Fear is all too often confused with phobia. However, fear is simply a natural reaction to a perceived threat and a part of everyday life. In fact, fear is not always a bad thing. After all, many of us do enjoy a terrifying horror movie, a heart-thumping rollercoaster ride, or dressing up like menacing monsters at Halloween.
Although such experiences can be downright scary, your mind will quickly rationalise the perception of danger, measure your reaction to it, and get you to calm you down soon afterward. This type of fear is controled and appropriate for the situation at hand.
When fear is uncontrollable and disproportionate to the perceived threat, it becomes a phobia. Phobias are serious mental health problems characterised by excessive fear and anxiety over an object or situation that may seem normal or harmless to other people.
Phobias Are Specific, Fears Are General
When it comes to phobias, the extreme reactions of fear are specific to certain triggers, for example, spiders, medical procedures, or enclosed spaces. It is also possible to suffer from more than one phobia or a combination of phobias at once.
Someone prone to fear, on the other hand, may be scared by all manner of objects, places, or animals. People who are generally nervous, like most young children, will react in fear of strange noises, unfamiliar animals, or a peculiar environment.
Phobia Makes You Go to Extremes Just to Avoid it
Phobias are not merely exaggerated fears, but a pattern of behaviour that involves taking extreme measures to avoid its triggers. The fear is so intense and nerve-wracking that it makes you inconvenience and complicate your lifestyle just to avoid it.
Someone with claustrophobia, for example, will rather turn down a lucrative job if it means taking the elevator to the top floor on a daily basis. A child with a phobia for germs will stay indoors and avoid school, playing or making friends. Others with a fear of flying would rather spend 24 hours taking a ferry to France than take a 2-hour flight.
Avoiding phobias leads to further anxiety, antisocial behaviour, irritability, and other psychological problems. It wreaks havoc on relationships, careers, schooling, and prevents you from enjoying everyday life.
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Symptoms Of Fears And Phobias
People suffering from phobias have one thing in common; they all realise that their fear is irrational, exaggerated, and unreasonable. They also acknowledge that the object of their fear does not cause any immediate danger. However, the anxiety it elicits is so real and powerful that they cannot do anything to prevent it.
The following symptoms are shared amongst all phobias:
- An intense and uncontrollable fear when encountering the object of the phobia
- Inability to function properly at work, school, or in your relationship
- Going to extreme lengths to avoid the cause of phobia even if it complicates your life.
- Physical symptoms such as trembling, difficulty breathing, sweating, chills, hot flushes, racing heart, and chest pain.
Causes Of Fears And Phobias
To understand phobias, we need to realise that fear is a LEARNED behaviour. The fact is, we are born with only two types of fear; the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. ALL other forms of fear are acquired as we grow older. We, therefore, LEARN HOW TO FEAR.
Specific phobias, for example, will develop between the ages of four and eight, while more complex phobias such as agoraphobia and social phobia usually develop after puberty. If your life is a living hell because of phobia, take heart; it is possible to unlearn any phobia and regain your healthy lifestyle.
Like many other anxiety disorders, the causes of phobia are not well understood. However, there are risk factors which include:
- Genetics: People with a close relative suffering from phobia are more likely to develop one form of phobia as well.
- Previous life-threatening experience with an insect, animal or environment which triggers an anxiety reaction in later life.
- A distressing or traumatic event such as a near-fatal accident, or near drowning
- Traumatic brain injury Severe illness or traumatic medical procedure
- Certain personality traits that you are born with are linked to the likelihood of developing fears and phobias
- Alcohol, drugs, or substance abuse
Types Of Fears And Phobias
Certain kinds of fears and phobias are more common than others, while some are more likely to appear in children or women. Phobias are generally classified into two main groups :
These are characterised by an irrational fear of a particular object or situation such as flying, spiders, or germs. These types of phobias usually develop in childhood or adolescence. For some people, specific phobias may become less severe as they grow older.
There are numerous types of specific phobias including:
- Claustrophobia– Fear of confined or enclosed spaces
- Acrophobia– Fear of heights
- Arachnophobia—Fear of spiders
- Aerophobia—Fear of flying
- Erythrophobia— Fear of blushing
- Emetophobia— Fear of vomiting
- Aquaphobia— Fear of water
- Zoophobia— Fear of animals
- Escalophobia— Fear of escalators
- Hypochondria— Fear of getting ill
These types of phobias usually develop in adulthood and tend to be more severe, disabling and disruptive of your lifestyle. The two well-known types of complex phobias are:
- Social phobia: Most of us feel awkward when doing things in public. However, people with social phobia or social anxiety have an intense fear of social activities such as speaking in public or being in a crowd. Such people experience severe anxiety before, during, and after the event and take extreme measures to avoid social activity. Social phobia is usually triggered by regular activity such as eating in front of others, talking to authority figures, going to work, or engaging in conversation.
- Agoraphobia: This type of phobia is often thought to be a fear of open spaces. However, agoraphobia is more complicated than that. People with this type of anxiety disorder fear to be in places where they might not get help or escape quickly in case they have a panic attack. This includes being outside the house alone, in crowded areas, an elevator, bus or train. Agoraphobia may also develop after a panic attack, where the fear of getting another anxiety episode makes you avoid particular places.
Even though phobias are one of the most common types of anxiety disorders, many people do not take them seriously, and may even make fun of people with phobias. It is vital to realise that fears and phobias are extremely debilitating forms of mental illness that should be treated as soon as possible.
With proper care and therapy, any type of phobia can be unlearned and eliminated.