We have all experienced fear at some point and that is a good thing, feeling afraid keeps us safe and protects us from physical or emotional pain. A phobia however is an over whelming and debilitating fear of often irrational nature and can be of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. A fear becomes a phobia when it begins to impact on a person’s daily life.
Someone who suffers from a phobia will go to great lengths to avoid situations which may confront them with their fear. Often the fears are out of proportion with the actual threat the fear proposes and can cause severe anxiety and panic responses.
Whilst the term ‘phobia’ is used interchangeably and can also refer to sensitivities or prejudice it terms of it relating to a fear response there are three different categories of phobia.
Specific / Simple Phobias
These are relatively common phobias and involve the fear of specific living creatures, situations, places, activities or objects. Some examples are a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (opidiophobia), flying (aviophobia) and dentists (dentophobia).
People who suffer from a social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder) find it difficult to be physically present at social events or in situations where social interaction is required. Going to weddings, parties or exhibitions may result in feelings of anxiety and a fear of being embarrassed or humiliated in public.
People who suffer from Agoraphobia are frightened to find themselves in situations where there is no escape. They have a fear of being somewhere where there is absolutely no help from other people. Examples may include the fear of travelling in a bus or train, going to large shopping malls or cinema’s. People who suffer from a severe case of Agoraphobia may even find it unbearable to leave the comfort of their own house.
Whilst there is no definitive answer as to what causes phobias, we do understand that it is a learnt response by the brain as a way of protection. The mind has learnt either through experience or observed behaviour that a certain situation/object/feeling/place is dangerous and therefore creates an anxiety response to make you avoid that thing. The majority of phobias are thought to develop in childhood through to early adulthood; it is unlikely that a phobia will develop after the age of 30 without a significant event.
Some believe that some phobias are paleoancestrial, ancient times for instance, staying outside in a wide and open field would increase the risk of getting caught by other dangerous predators.
Phobias are not restricted to life threatening situations, from fearing cotton wool to clowns; phobia sufferers can fear the most unusual of things:
- Xanthophobia – fear of the colour yellow
- Somniphobia- fear of falling asleep
- Nomophobia- fear of being without mobile phone coverage (yes that is a real thing!)
- Ombrophobia- fear of rain
- Pogonophobia- fear of beards