Phobias can be managed and cured
Almost everyone has an irrational fear or two—of mice, for example, or your annual dental checkup. For most people, these fears are minor. But when fears become so severe that they cause tremendous anxiety and interfere with your normal life, they’re called phobias. The good news is that phobias can be managed and cured. Self-help strategies and therapy can help you overcome your fears and start living the life you want.
What are phobias?
A phobia is an intense fear of something that, in reality, poses little or no actual danger. Common phobias and fears include closed-in places, heights, highway driving, flying insects, snakes, and needles. However, you can develop phobias of virtually anything. Most phobias develop in childhood, but they can also develop in adults.
If you have a phobia, you probably realize that your fear is irrational, yet you still can’t control your feelings. Just thinking about the feared object or situation may make you anxious. And when you’re actually exposed to the thing you fear, the terror is automatic and overwhelming.
The experience is so nerve-wracking that you may go to great lengths to avoid it—inconveniencing yourself or even changing your lifestyle. If you have claustrophobia, for example, you might turn down a lucrative job offer if you have to ride the elevator to get to the office. If you have a fear of heights, you might drive an extra 20 Km in order to avoid a tall bridge.
Understanding your phobia is the first step to overcoming it. It’s important to know that phobias are common. (Having a phobia doesn’t mean you’re crazy!) It also helps to know that phobias are highly treatable. You can overcome your anxiety and fear, no matter how out of control it feels.
Common types of phobias and fears
There are four general types of phobias and fears:
Animal phobias. Examples include the fear of snakes, spiders, rodents, and dogs.
Natural environment phobias. Examples include fear of heights, storms, water, and of the dark.
Situational phobias (fears triggered by a specific situation). Examples include fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), flying, driving, tunnels, and bridges.
Blood-Injection-Injury phobia. This is the fear of blood, injury, illness, needles, or other medical procedures.
Some phobias don’t fall into one of the four common categories. Such phobias include fear of choking, fear of getting a disease such as cancer, and fear of clowns.
Signs and symptoms of phobias
The symptoms of a phobia can range from mild feelings of apprehension and anxiety to a full-blown panic attack. Typically, the closer you are to the thing you’re afraid of, the greater your fear will be. Your fear will also be higher if getting away is difficult.
When to seek help for phobias and fears
If your phobia doesn’t really impact your life that much, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about. But if avoidance of the object, activity, or situation that triggers your phobia interferes with your normal functioning, or keeps you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy, it’s time to seek help.
Consider treatment for your phobia if:
- It causes intense and disabling fear, anxiety, and panic
- You recognize that your fear is excessive and unreasonable
- You avoid certain situations and places because of your phobia
- Your avoidance interferes with your normal routine or causes significant distress
- You’ve had the phobia for at least six months
Self-help or therapy for phobias: which is best?
When it comes to treating phobias, self-help strategies and therapy can both be effective. What’s best for you depends on a number of factors, including the severity of your phobia, your insurance coverage, and the amount of support you need.
As a general rule, self-help is always worth a try. The more you can do for yourself, the more in control you’ll feel—which goes a long way when it comes to phobias and fears. However, if your phobia is so severe that it triggers panic attacks or uncontrollable anxiety, you may want to get additional support.
The good news is that therapy for phobias has a great track record. Not only does it work extremely well, but you tend to see results very quickly—sometimes in as a little as one to four sessions.
However, support doesn’t have to come in the guise of a professional therapist. Just having someone to hold your hand or stand by your side as you face your fears can be extraordinarily helpful.
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