What are phobias?
Phobia is a term that refers to a group of symptoms brought on by feared objects or situations. People can develop phobic reactions to animals (e.g., spiders), activities (e.g., getting on an airplane), or social situations (e.g., eating in public or simply being out in public at all).
Phobias affect people of all ages, from all walks of life, and in every part of the country. The National Institute of Mental Health has reported that 5.1%-12.5% of Americans have phobias. They are the most common psychiatric illness among women of all ages and are the second most common illness among men older than 25.
What are the symptoms of phobias?
Phobias can interfere with your ability to work, socialize, and go about a daily routine. They may focus on something as common as germs, or they may arise whenever you venture from home. A phobia that interferes with daily living can create extreme disability and should be treated.
Phobias are emotional and physical reactions to feared objects or situations. Symptoms of a phobia include the following:
When avoidance causes distress or interferes with the ability to work, socialize, or care for day-to-day needs, a psychiatric evaluation should be sought.
What causes phobias?
Phobias are caused by a wide array of psychological and sometimes physiological factors. Because of this, it is difficult to categorize one single cause. Your physician can best determine the nature and origin of a specific phobia.
What happens to people who have phobias?
Phobias are divided into categories according to the cause of the reaction and avoidance.
What is the treatment for phobias?
Fortunately, phobias are very treatable. In fact, most people who seek treatment completely overcome their fears for life. Effective relief can be gained through either behavior therapy or medication.
In behavior therapy, one meets with a trained therapist and confronts the feared object or situation in a carefully planned, gradual way and learns to control the physical reactions of fear. The person first imagines the feared object or situation, works up to looking at pictures that depict the object or situation, and finally actually experiences the situation or comes in contact with the feared object. By confronting rather than fleeing the object of fear, the person becomes accustomed to it and can lose the terror, horror, panic, and dread he or she once felt.
Medications are used to control the panic experienced during a phobic situation as well as the anxiety aroused by anticipation of that situation and are the treatment of first choice for social phobia and agoraphobia.
Any phobia that interferes with daily living and creates extreme disability should be treated. With proper treatment, the vast majority of phobia patients can completely overcome their fears and be symptom free for years, if not for life.
What can I do to help control phobias?
If you cannot deal with a phobia alone, seek the assistance of a medical professional.
Where can I get more information about phobias?
There are several good books about phobias, and several organizations that can provide support, advice and information. Your nurse can provide you with a list of these resources.