Phobias and Mental Health: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Everybody is afraid of something, but a phobia can be irrational and interfere with daily life. Phobias are common and the person who suffers from a phobia has anxiety and fear caused by a particular object, place, or situation. 

Encountering the source of the phobia results in panic or dread. This can be debilitating and cause distress. If you or someone you care about suffers from a phobia, you should look at this article about therapy for phobias. 

Phobia Causes and Risk Factors

There are some genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the development of a phobia. Children who have a close relative that suffers from an anxiety disorder is at increased risk of developing a phobia. In addition, distressing and traumatic events can bring on a phobia. People who have ongoing medical or health concerns often develop phobias as well. There is increased phobia risk with traumatic brain injuries, substance abuse, and depression. 

Phobia Symptoms

Phobias have a plethora of unique symptoms that are often much different than those that develop with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Phobias can result in irrational fears and anxieties, but people with phobias do not have severe delusions and have a firm grounding in reality. 

The most common symptoms of a phobia are those from the resulting panic attack. This means that the person who encounters their phobia may have a rapidly pounding heart and shortness of breath. Their communication may suffer as well. A panic attach can also cause upset stomach and nausea.

Phobias often cause excessive, often irrational, anxieties that are triggered by the feared object or situation. The fears are irrational or out of proportion to the actual threat. A person who suffers from a phobia will often try their best to avoid the phobia. This may cause excessive stress or disrupt a person’s daily life. 

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Types of Phobias

Some phobias are more common than others. There are some different types to be aware of, but there are also too many to mention here. If you feel like you have a phobia that is not listed, then it may be best to seek the help of a mental health professional. 

Agoraphobia is the fear of places or situations that you are unable to escape from. The term “agoraphobia” means the fear of open spaces. This means that people who suffer with agoraphobia are afraid of crowds or of being trapped in their own home. This often causes the person to avoid any social interaction and to stay inside their own home. 

People who suffer from agoraphobia are often afraid of having a panic attach in a place that they cannot escape from. Sometimes there is also a fear of medical issues in a public area or in a place where they would be unable to receive help. 

Social phobia is also called social anxiety disorder. This is an extreme fear of social situations and can lead to isolation. Social phobias can range from mildly distressing all the way to very severe. In severe instances, a person can experience a panic attach from simple social interactions such as a phone call or speaking with a neighbor. 

People who suffer from social phobia often avoid things that they are afraid of so much that it disrupts their normal behavior and routine. To be referred to as a true phobia, something will have to disrupt a person’s daily life. 

A specific or simple phobia is the most common type. This type refers to a fear of a specific thing. This fear can revolve around a certain environment, person, animal, or situation. These things are sometimes inherited. There are many types of common specific phobias. 

Glossophobia is very common and also known as performance anxiety. This is also the same phobia as speaking in front of other people. People who experience severe glossophobia will have physical and mental symptoms that arise when they think about speaking or being in front of a group of people. 

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Acrophobia is the fear of heights. People with acrophobia will do everything they can to avoid bridges, mountains, elevators, or higher floors in a building. They may experience vertigo or dizziness when they confront the cause of their fear. In extreme cases, a person suffering from acrophobia may pass out or lose consciousness. 

Claustrophobia is the fear of small, enclosed, or tight spaces. Severe cases of claustrophobia can cause people to avoid elevators, cars, and other things that may be required in their daily lives.

Aviophobia is the fear of flying. This may cause someone to spend more time and money to avoid flying. They may even experience panic or distress when thinking about flying or being inside an airport even if they are not there to board an airplane. 

Dentophobia is the fear of the dentist or having dental work done. This often begins to develop after an unpleasant experience with a dentist. This phobia can lead people to avoid dental care. This can make them have dental issues that may last for years. 

Hemophobia is the fear of blood or injury and a person who suffers from hemophobia may get dizzy or even faint when they come into contact with their own or someone else’s blood. 

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. This sometimes presents itself when moving to a new location and can cause someone to panic when they encounter even a small spider. Cynophobia is the fear of dogs. A person who suffers from cynophobia may avoid friends and family members who have dogs which can disrupt healthy relationships. 

Treatment for Phobia

Treatment often consists of psychotherapy and it is often combined with medication depending on the type and severity of the phobia. Specific phobias are often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. 

It is common for desensitization therapy or exposure therapy to be used as well. These methods increase the exposure to the situation or object that causes the fear. As the person who suffers from the phobia is exposed, they are taught techniques that can help them relax and cope with the object of their phobia. 

Social anxiety disorder is often treated with medication called a beta-blocker. This will reduce the symptoms related to the anxiety prior to the event that the person is fearful of. For prolonged social anxieties, cognitive behavioral therapy may be used in conjunction with antidepressants. 

Agoraphobia is often treated in a similar way as a panic disorder. This means that therapy may be combined with antidepressants and benzodiazepines can be used for short term symptoms. 

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A phobia is different from fear because a phobia will be distressing enough to disrupt daily life. They are easily treatable with therapy and medication. Sometimes exposure therapy can be used to gradually increase exposure to the item that causes fear and anxiety while relaxation and coping techniques are learned, developed, and practiced. 

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