A phobia is an anxiety disorder in which the affected person experiences an excessive or irrational fear of a specific situation, object or activity that disrupts their ability to function in normal daily activities. Phobias are common psychiatric disorders. About 10% of the UK population may suffer from a phobia during their lifetime.
Symptoms usually occur until when contact is made with the phobia’s source. However, in some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can induce anticipatory anxiety and panic. Symptoms vary and include, unsteadiness, dizziness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and trembling or shaking. Generally speaking, phobias can be divided into two main categories, specific (simple) phobias and complex phobias.
Specific phobias centre around a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood as a result of traumatic experience and may become less severe with age. Complex phobias tend to be more disabling and challenging. They usually develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance. These include Agoraphobia and Social Phobia.
Agoraphobia creates significant anxiety in circumstances where escaping may be difficult in the event of a panic attack. This results in isolation and avoidance of public transport and crowded places. Social Phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, results in anxiety in social situations. Social phobia results in fear of people, public speaking and anticipation of embarrassment and humiliation. In severe cases, this can become debilitating and may prevent carrying out every day, family, work and social activities.
Phobias are usually associated with a particular incident or trauma, or may be a learned response that a develops early in life from a parent or sibling. Genetics may also play a role.
A person will sometimes choose to live with a phobia, taking great care to avoid the object or situation they’re afraid of. However, continual avoidance may make the situation worse. Almost all specific phobias can be successfully treated. Personal practice and self-regulation techniques are often a contributing factor. Treating complex phobias often takes longer and involves identification and treatment of underlying factors, in the form of historic distressing and traumatic events.