What are phobias
Phobias are fears we know are not rational. Phobia is a fear that is excessive and not grounded in reality. Another characteristic of phobia is that this fear lasts long.
Dark thoughts and the fear that accompanies them develop towards different situations, animals, people, objects, activities, ideas.
Phobias are irrational fears — that is, we have no rational explanation for them.
For example, the snake is an animal that most people fear. But the vast majority of people are aware that snake bites are unlikely in everyday urban situations. They do not ungroundedly fear them. Meanwhile, people with a phobia of snakes are aware that it is unlikely that a snake will bite them, but that phobia still interferes with their life, even on a daily basis.
Similarly, people are often afraid of e.g. flying, but that fear does not interfere with their daily functioning. They are ready to board a plane and do not avoid facing that fear. In the case of phobias, however, this fear is strong, long-lasting and interferes with a person’s daily life. People with phobias begin to avoid situations in which their fear could occur. Therefore, it is recommended to treat phobias so that they do not affect the overall quality of life.
How phobias develop
Typically, phobias develop as a result of the conditioning process, which is sometimes accompanied by a traumatic experience.
What does this look like in practice? A phobia can develop in a situation where you have had a traumatic experience. For example, someone robbed you in a dark street in the middle of the night, which is why you started avoiding leaving the house after dark.
However, a situation which you experienced numerous times before and consider it common can also cause a panic attack. For example, for the tenth time you give a PPT presentation for your colleagues and suddenly you ask yourself: what if I mess up, make a mistake, ruin everything… You start sweating, your heart starts beating fast, your breath is short, you feel like you will collapse. A panic attack occurs. When that strong fear overwhelms you, you will connect that situation in which he appeared with the next such situation. This way, you will feel uncomfortable every time before you have to give a presentation.
The fear you feel grows into a phobia only when you start avoiding the situation in which it occurs.
Therein lies the difference between fear and phobia.
The vicious circle of fear, anxiety and phobia
Anxiety is also a characteristic companion of phobia. The difference between phobia and anxiety is that phobia is related to objects or situations (and their anticipation), while anxiety usually occurs in different situations that are not necessarily related.
Another characteristic of the phobia is that it creates a vicious circle.
Namely, our mind and psyche are designed to reward us when we repeat the behavior that is beneficial for us. If we feel that we have avoided fear and anxiety as unpleasant emotions that would arise in the face of the object of our phobia, our brain will automatically reward us for avoiding discomfort.
However, this will cause situations in which anxiety will arise from the very thought of the subject of our phobia. And you will avoid them more and more, and thus strengthen your phobia.
This creates a vicious circle that is characteristic of phobias. It is not easy to get out of it, but it is possible. And certainly much simpler and efficient with professional psychological help.
How is phobia manifested?
It is difficult to list all the phobias that exist. When it comes to irrational fears, their list is quite long.
The strangest phobias, for example, are the fear of long words (sesquipedalophobia), the fear of walking (ambulophobia) or the fear of food (sitophobia).
The most common phobias are social phobia, excessive fear of flying or heights, darkness, open space, injury or disease. But also of certain animals, such as snakes or spiders.
Most common phobias
Agoraphobia is irrational fear of open space, of being on the street or square.
People suffering from this phobia experience symptoms similar to a panic attack or when they (expect to) find themselves in an open space, where they feel exposed. The fear can be so strong that they get the feeling they are going to die or go crazy. Because of that, these people stay in the house more often and in time leave it less and less.
It arises as a consequence of the fear of being in a confined space, such as an elevator, train, car, but also a plane, as well as the crowd in general.
Excessive fear of the dark
Also known as nyctophobia. Some fears, like this one, are developmental fears in children and many people lose it over time. On the contrary, people who have strong fear of darkness even avoid going out at night. This fear often interferes with their sleep.
Name for a phobia from strangers or from the unknown. In a broader sense, this term is used for anxiety, even hatred directed towards foreigners (racism) and elements of culture (eg. customs) that we experience as unfamiliar.
Extreme fear of needles or injections, or all medical procedures that use needles. It belongs to the group of phobias from injuries. Evolutionarily, injuries were fatal, so it is believed that this fear is related to the fear of death, due to which we freeze to avoid being attacked or injured.
Fear of flying
Also a fairly common phobia. Many people do not acknowledge it publicly and prefer to choose other means of transportation. People who suffer from phobia of being on the plane usually experience strong anxiety due to lack of control over the situation. Although this phobia is sometimes associated with fear of heights, closed space, or even open space.
Acrophobia (fear of heights)
Irrational fear of heights is also common. This is not a usual discomfort felt at huge heights. People with phobia of heights experience strong fear even at low altitudes, and even in anticipation of finding themselves in such situations.
People with social phobias start avoiding all places and events where they may be caught by an panic attack due to the presence of others. It differs from the irrational fear of public appearance. Social phobia can include avoiding eating in front of others, avoiding the use of toilets and the like.
Why we should not tolerate phobias
The phobia itself is such that, if we have it, it keeps us away from that object of our fear. Whether the phobia is more or less pronounced, it is not so easy to accept that there is something that causes fear in us, to the point that it sometimes completely paralyzes us.
In that situation, we do not function normally and it makes us further avoid similar situations, people, activities…. In short, it deprives us of a normal life. It changes our behavior on the street, at work, at home, in the presence of others…
People who suffer from phobia rely on others and suffer a lot due to their phobia.
That is why the solution is to face the phobia. That is, to treat it with the means that are available and that have been proven to work!
Treatment of phobias
For people whose phobias significantly lower their quality of living (say, people who lose business opportunities because they strongly fear of flying), the question of how to overcome fear is very important. That is why experts should approach this problem with trust and compassion. It takes time to establish how the phobia occurred and a lot of patience in treatment.
The positive thing, however, is that there are many methods available in the treatment of phobias.
Several different types of psychotherapy are used for treatment of phobias.
When it comes to social phobia, treatment primarily involves changing beliefs and negative thoughts about how other people perceive you. It is similar with other phobias.
Exposure or flooding therapy is additional method used for treating them. To put it simply, the point is to get used to the situation in which you are exposed to fear and anxiety, and to reduce it due to getting used to it. First you expose yourself in your imagination, through imagined situations, then in controlled conditions, and then you start living normally, as before the phobia occurred.
Different types of psychotherapy help to alleviate and sometimes eliminate phobias: cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR therapy, hypnotherapy. Sometimes, in the case of severe phobias, the effect of psychotherapy is deepened by the controlled use of drugs (antidepressants, benzodiazepines or beta-blockers).
In recent years, we have been researching how virtual reality can help us overcome phobias.
To choose the right type of therapy for the phobia you are facing, contact us now