It’s not uncommon for most people to have a fear of one thing or another. If you ask people what they are afraid of, you’ll get a wide range of responses from spiders to public speaking to even death. When a fear becomes irrational, excessive, or interferes with your life, it becomes a phobia. Phobias can make you feel extreme anxiety and put you in a state of “fight or flight”. Typically, exposure to your phobia will have you experiencing both emotional and physical sensations such as palpitations of the heart, feelings of tension, apprehension, and even full-blown panic attacks.
Phobias can affect anyone of any age and they may or may not have developed due to past experiences or trauma.
How do you know when a fear is actually a phobia?
There are 3 types of phobias:
At its base, a social phobia is really about a fear of rejection or being judged by making a fool of yourself (which we fear will ultimately lead to rejection). This can include being in social situations or public speaking.
This is considered a complex phobia and is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult and/or having a panic attack in public.
Specific (or simple) phobias
These are generally called simple phobias and are specific to a particular trigger such as an animal, insect, experience, or medical procedure.
You may be diagnosed with a phobia if you go out of your way to avoid the trigger and it affects how you live because you will avoid the trigger at all costs. Perhaps you turn down invitations to social gatherings and feel lonely, or maybe you take driving vacations and only dream of visiting far-away places because of a fear of flying, or you might have unhealthy teeth due to a dental phobia. Some phobias are easier to avoid than others.
- Acrophobia (fear of heights)
- Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
- Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
- Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces, having a panic attack in public)
- Mysophobia (fear of germs)
- Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
- Aviophobia (fear of flying)
- Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
- Entomophobia (fear of insects)
- Astraphobia (fear of storms)
- Trypanophobias (fear of needles)
Symptoms & signs of phobias
Some of the symptoms a person with a phobia may experience when exposed to the trigger are:
- Inability to function or behave normally when exposed to the trigger
- Extreme anxiety/fear
- A need to avoid the trigger
- An understanding that the fear of the trigger is irrational
- Fear of dying or losing control
- Obsession with the trigger
- An inability to control these feelings
- Trembling, muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
When is it time to get help?
Put simply, when phobias are impacting your life it’s time to get help. If you are agoraphobic or have a social phobia this will have a bigger consequence and be much harder to avoid triggers than if you have a specific phobia – especially if you are not exposed to the trigger very often.
Treatment methods for dealing with phobias
There are several treatment methods that work in treating phobias. Your therapist will talk with you to determine the best treatment for your individual circumstances and needs. Below are just a few of the treatment methods available for phobias:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an approach that works to help the brain process information, memories, sounds, and feelings in a way that makes them be seen in a new and less distressing way.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves.
- Virtual reality therapy is a computer-based system that allows a user to experience a sense of presence in a computer-generated or video presented three-dimensional environment.
- Hypnosis can allow you to travel deeper into the unconscious or subconscious to look at and work with issues and ideas perhaps inaccessible otherwise.
- Exposure therapy is a form of treatment where your therapist will create a safe environment where they expose you to the triggers you may fear or try to avoid in an effort to decrease your anxiety towards that trigger.
- Mindfulness therapy is an approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves, others, and the world. The ability to be in the moment, to acknowledge and regulate your emotions helps you to break free from negative thought patterns.
What will I get out of treatment with Insight Psychological?
If a phobia of any kind is affecting your life, please know that you’re not alone – phobias are very common and it’s estimated that 1 in every 10 people in Canada are dealing with a phobia of some sort. Our therapists at Insight can help you to alleviate the symptoms caused by anxiety from the phobia. You do not have to live under the control of this fear – we can help. Working together with your therapist, you’ll find ways to deal with and to overcome your phobia through a proven treatment method that works for you. You don’t have to live in fear of leaving your home. You don’t always have to scan for the nearest exit or struggle in social situations. You can travel, enjoy being outside, and not think about spiders, moths, or snakes. You can fly anywhere you want, go to the doctor or dentist with little or at least manageable fear. All this is possible!
Please contact us for more information.
 “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Phobias, Canadian Psychological Association