Phobias

Fear is a normal part of life. But when a fear is persistent, excessive, unreasonable and induces a lot of anxiety and distress, it is called a phobia. Many people suffer from phobias that can affect their daily life. The expert team at Banner Health is here to diagnose, treat and help you manage any phobias you may have.

What Are Phobias?

Phobias are an unrealistic and overwhelming fear of objects or situations that pose little danger but provoke anxiety. Phobias are a very common type of anxiety disorder. Symptoms for phobias can range from mild annoyances to life disrupting. Unlike brief anxiety, phobias can be long-lasting and cause intense physical and physiological responses.

Types of Phobias

There are several different types of phobias, and it’s not unusual to experience a specific phobia about more than one object or situation.

Childhood phobias typically occur between the ages of 5 and 9, last a short period of time and usually go away on their own. Phobias that last longer tend to develop later in life, usually for people in their 20s, and can last for many years. Later-in-life phobias are less likely to go away on their own and can increase the risk of other psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders or substance abuse.

Some common types of phobias include:

Specific Phobia

Also known as simple phobias, these are the most common types of phobias. With this type of phobia, people may fear specific types of people (such as clowns or the dentist), animals (such as spiders or dogs), environments (such as heights, the dark or thunderstorms) or situations (such as flying in a plane or choking). In some cases, specific phobias can be inherited and can run in families.

Social Phobia

While it’s normal to feel nervous in some social situations, social phobia causes significant anxiety around everyday situations. Social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder (SAD) and can bring up emotions such as fear of being judged by others, self-consciousness and embarrassment.

Social phobia is a chronic mental health condition, but there are several coping skills and medications you can use to help improve your ability to interact with others. People who may have had negative childhood experiences or were shy as children tend to be more likely to develop social phobia.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of being in public spaces because it would be embarrassing or difficult to make a sudden exit. People with agoraphobia may avoid going to crowded spaces, including public transportation, movie theaters or concerts. Some people with agoraphobia may also experience panic symptoms or panic disorder.

Signs of Phobias

Although there are different kinds of phobias, they are likely to produce some, if not all, of the following reactions:

  • Immediate feeling of intense fear, anxiety and panic when exposed to or are just thinking about the source of your fear
  • Difficulty with normal functions due to fear
  • Doing everything possible to avoid the object or situation
  • Worsening anxiety as the object or situation gets closer
  • Being aware your fears are exaggerated, but feeling unable to control them
  • Nausea, dizziness or fainting around blood or injuries
  • Physical reactions and symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, difficulty breathing or chest tightness

Screenings and Diagnosis for Phobias

People with anxiety can sometimes develop phobias. In some cases, phobias are simply annoyances, such as taking the stairs because you fear the elevator. However, if your phobia is negatively impacting your daily life at work, school or social gatherings, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Your doctor can diagnose a specific phobia through a clinical interview and diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association.

Treatments for Phobias

Most people with phobias can be helped by addressing the phobia right away with the correct therapy, medications or a combination of the two.

Medications

Medications can help reduce the anxiety and panic symptoms that are experienced when you’re exposed to or thinking about the object or situation that causes you fear. Medications can be used as an initial treatment or for short-term use in specific situations, such as public speaking or flying. Common medications for phobias include:

  • Beta blockers to block the stimulating effects of adrenaline that are caused by anxiety, such as a shaky voice or increased heart rate
  • Sedatives can help people reduce the amount of anxiety that is felt

Psychotherapy

Talking to a mental health professional can help you manage your phobia. There are two types of therapy that are most effective at treating phobias:

  • Exposure therapy is focused on helping you change your reaction to the object or situation you fear. Repeated exposures to your fear may help you manage your anxiety.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy involves a combination of exposure and other techniques to help you learn different ways to cope with the object of your fear. This type of therapy aims to help people develop a sense of mastery and confidence with their thoughts and feelings, instead of feeling overwhelmed by them.

No matter your phobia, the expert staff at Banner Health is here to help you manage it and get back to living a normal life.