Phobias: What Are They and How Do You Deal with Them?

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Phobias: What Are They and How Do You Deal with Them?

Even when people realize that their fears are unfounded, they still cannot get rid of their feelings of terror / Photo by Tero Vesalainen via Shutterstock

 

There are many things that can cause a feeling of anxiety when we encounter them or do them, such as speaking in public or spotting an insect nearby. For some people, however, fear can manifest as something much more serious.

What are Phobias?

HelpGuide.com describes phobia as an intense fear in something that does not pose any immediate or actual danger to the person. A great number of people in the population would admit to having an irrational fear, with the most common being a fear of heights, insects, snakes, tight and closed spaces, and many more. In fact, there are phobias for virtually every imaginable thing, and most of these develop in childhood, although they can develop and carry over into adulthood.

Even when people realize that their fears are unfounded, they still cannot get rid of their feelings of terror. Many people become afraid even when simply thinking of their phobia. When presented with it, many will become overcome with terror, feel lightheaded or faint outright. They will go to great lengths to avoid the stimulus and will even turn down opportunities for themselves to avoid it.

 

Normal Fears and Phobias

For some, it may be difficult to determine between a “normal” fear and a phobia. However, the former is activated by a biological fight-or-flight response that makes our bodies alert when a threat arises. For example, when flying in a plane through a storm or when faced with a large, snarling dog, fear is a natural response. On the other hand, a phobia exists in the absence of immediate danger or stimulus. An example of this would be missing your best friend’s wedding because you would need to take a plane, or avoiding a park because dogs frequent the area.

Some of the common symptoms and signs of having phobias are difficulty breathing, chest pain, unexplained shaking, dizziness, sweating, and an upset stomach. Some people even report that they feel an overwhelming sense of panic or feel like they are about to die.

Phobia Theories

According to VeryWellMind.com, there are three major classes of theories as to why such phobias develop. The first is psychoanalytic, which is based on the concepts put forth by Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology. According to him, there are three aspects of our conscience. The id is the instinctive part that gives in to primal desires and emotions, such as anxiety and fear. The superego is the opposite of the former, which values judgment and guilt to provide selfless decisions. Finally, the ego is the moderator between the first two that balances the instincts of the id and the selflessness of the superego. The theory suggests that phobias are the fears of the id that are being suppressed by the ego and that they are the manifestation of the repressed conflict between the superego and id.

There may be certain genetic factors at play that make someone susceptible to phobias / Photo by vchal via Shutterstock

 

The second is the learning theory, which has its basis in the principles of cognitive theory and behaviorism. The scope of the study is wide, but in essence, it explains that phobias are formed when fear responses in a person are punished or reinforced. Thus, having a phobia of something is a “learned” behavior that may have been caused by the positive rewarding or punishment of the fear-based behavior.

Finally, there is the biological basis of phobias. Psychological problems and mental disorders can often be caused by physiological changes. Neuropsychology then attempts to make sense of the connection between the neural functions of the brain and a person’s psychology.

With research, they’ve found that certain neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, have a great effect in relieving anxiety. Thus, scientists were able to discover that some people respond well to medications that elevate serotonin levels in treating phobias. They also found that there may be certain genetic factors at play that make someone susceptible to phobias. It seems that it is a combination of several factors that creates the circumstances for phobias to develop.

Ways to Treat a Phobia

There are several ways to help yourself if a phobia is getting out of hand, especially if it is disrupting your lifestyle. Facing the fear one step at a time is the only sure way to truly conquer it, though this may take much time and practice. Psychologists suggest that one should make a to-do list of the actions related to the fear and that one can make a “fear ladder” related to it. For example, if one is afraid of dogs, they can start by looking at pictures and videos of dogs before moving on slowly to the real thing.

It would also be useful to learn exercises and techniques that can calm you down as you are thinking or coming into contact with your phobia. These include breathing exercises, focusing on other stimuli that can relax you, and meditation.

One should never be afraid to seek professional help when they realize that a phobia is getting out of hand. Though there may be no surefire explanation of why phobias are formed, there are ways to help one deal with their fears.

 

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