An estimated 19 million Americans have a phobia that causes difficulty in some area of their lives. For me, it’s arachnophobia (fear of spiders) whether they’re itsy bitsy or full grown tarantulas. I know I’m bigger than a spider but when it comes to phobias, logic doesn’t make any difference.
A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.
While phobias may seem puzzling, they are actually very common and treatable. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population. Furthermore, women are twice as likely to suffer from phobias than men.
There are three main groups of phobias: Specific (simple) phobias, which are the most common and focus on specific objects. Social phobia, which causes extreme anxiety in social or public situations, and. Agoraphobia, which is the fear of being alone in public places from which there is no easy escape.
Much is still unknown about the actual cause of phobias, however some causes may include:
- Negative experiences developed as a result of having a bad experience or panic attack related to a specific object or situation.
- Genetics and environment. There may be a link between a specific phobia and the phobia or anxiety of a parent — this could be due to genetics or learned behavior.
- Changes in brain functioning also may play a role in developing specific phobias.”
The ten most common phobias are:
Acrophobia: fear of heights.
Pteromerhanophobia: fear of flying.
Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces.
Entomophobia: fear of insects.
Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes.
Cynophobia: fear of dogs.
Astraphobia: fear of storms.
Trypanophobia: fear of needles.
Nosophobia: fear of developing a disease.
Arachnophobia: fear of spiders.
Most people with phobias tend to avoid them, For example: When selecting a vacation spot, I won’t travel to a destination known to have an abundance of arachnids. Someone with claustrophobia will most likely opt to take three flights of stairs versus an elevator.
While people may assume agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces, it’s actually a more complex condition. Agoraphobics are generally afraid of situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.
A person with metathesiophobia, or the fear of change, is likely to avoid changing jobs or always dine out at the same restaurant. It is sometimes associated with trypophobia, the fear of moving.
Symptoms associated with phobias can range from mild to severe. Panic attacks are a common response, according to Mental Health America. Other physical symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Racing or pounding heart
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Hot or cold flashes
Many mental health professionals recommend psychotherapy to treat most phobias and agree exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are the most effective. These forms of therapy focus on changing a person’s response to the object or situation that they fear.