Are you afraid of something? Perhaps afraid of social situations, heights, roller coasters, clowns, spiders, or snakes. Certainly, almost everyone is afraid of something and can relate to a reasonable level of fear. However, when a fear becomes irrational, it may indicate something worse, a phobia. Not everyone has phobias, but to those that do, phobias can be crippling. Fortunately, there are methods to both determine and treat those who have a phobia.
It is safe to say, at one time or another, everyone has been afraid.
Not everyone may admit to their times of fear, but in most cases, fear is a healthy response to a real threat or danger. Nevertheless, the challenge is understanding the difference between a healthy fear and a phobia. What is a phobia?
The Concise Medical Dictionary defines a phobia as a “pathologically strong fear of a particular event or thing. Avoiding the feared situation may severely restrict one’s life and cause much suffering” (Martin, 2015). Phobias are “a mental disorder that can be broken into three categories: specific, social, and agoraphobia” (Turkington & Cloos, 2015). Thus, it is important to realize a clear distinction exists between fear and phobia.
Fear is natural and an essential physical response, whereas, phobias are irrational and restrictive reactions to fear.
Although anyone can have a phobia, the demographics indicate that some are more susceptible than others to be a victim.
In most cases, phobia will develop during the childhood through the early adulthood years. The National Institute of Mental Health (2015a) update on “Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults” estimates 43.4 million adult Americans (17.9 percent of all U.S. adults) suffer from an AMI with 19.2 million of these adults experiencing phobias. Alarmingly, phobias are “twice as common in women” than men (McGill, 2015).
Specific phobias occur in “in one out of every ten Americans, [and seem to run] in families” (Turkinton & Cloos, 2015).
The National Institute of Mental Health (2015b) indicates that 6.8 percent of adults suffer from social phobia with 29.9 percent classified as severe cases (National Institute of Mental Health. 2015b). The onset of Agoraphobia is likely to occur between “ages of 15 and 35 [and occurs in] about 3 [percent] of the population.” (Turkington & Cloos, 2015). A summary of the demographic data concludes that nearly one in five American adults suffers from an AMI and phobias represent over forty-four percent of all AMI cases.
Additionally, phobias tend to develop during the early years of life and women are overwhelmingly at a greater risk than men.
Symptoms of Phobia
Understanding the symptoms of phobia is essential, not just for life quality, but also for one’s health.
According to associate director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Center, Doctor Raphael Rose the most prominent symptoms include “things like increased heart rate, feeling light-headed and feelings of anxiousness in your stomach” (McGill, 2015). Rose goes on to explain that other symptoms may include “behavioral signs, like avoiding places or situations [of fear or] being overly worried about the consequences of an upcoming life event” (McGill, 2015). An important element of phobias includes periods of no anxiety that rapidly change due to a trigger. These triggers are different from person to person and among the different phobia types.
For instance, a specific phobia is having a fear of “a situation or object” vary between “travel to dental visits,” a social phobia is fear “of being watched or judged [and publicly] embarrassed, and Agoraphobia is an “intense fear of feeling trapped” (Turkington & Cloos, 2015).
The key to determining whether to seek medical attention is answering one important question. How much does a phobia interfere with one’s life?
Those that experience a “specific phobia that is easy to avoid [and does not] interfere much with their lives may not need to get help” (Turkington & Cloos, 2015). On the other hand, those who have an unavoidable phobia that interferes with their quality of life should seek medical assistance.
Unfortunately, (Turkington & Cloos, 2015) data shows that only “about 25%” seek help and most phobias will only grow worse if left untreated. The good news is that phobias are among the “most treatable mental health problems” and the treated are likely to “lead normal lives” (Turkington & Cloos, 2015). There is a host of treatment options available for the phobia afflicted.
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (6) lists the most effective method to overcome a phobia “is simply to face it” (Bourne, p.155). This approach is called exposure which is a gradual process that seeks to unlearn the fear associated with one’s phobia. Other options for treatment include additional psychotherapy, prescription medications, lifestyle modification, and even home remedies. In review, an individual must determine the impact a phobia has on their life and, if necessary, seek medical assistance. Do not fear; there are effective options to treat, reduce, and cure phobia.
Despite available options, nearly three-quarters of American adults with phobia do not seek assistance thus, leaving millions to endure needless suffering.
Furthermore, the burden of untreated phobia hurts the victims and extends to their families, employers, and communities. In addition to the human element, further considerations should examine the negative economic and diversity impact.
For example, since women are far more likely to suffer from untreated phobias does a male-dominant society discourage open discussion, acknowledgment, and treatment of phobias?
If a higher number of women were to seek treatment for phobias would this impact the workforce pay gap between men and women?
Could employers boost both their talent pool and profits by better addressing the emotional well-being of female employees?
Increasing awareness and treatment of phobias may yield unimagined societal and economic benefits.
Bourne, E. (2015). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (6). Oakland, US: New Harbinger Publications. 155.
Martin, E. (2015). phobia. In Concise Medical Dictionary.: Oxford University Press.
McGill, N. (2015). Phobias: Learning how to face your fears. The Nation’s Health, 45(4), 24.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2015a). Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2015b). Social Phobia Among Adults.
Turkington, C. A., & Cloos, R. (2015). Phobias. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine (5th ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.