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What do we mean by Phobias?

A phobia is a fear that is inappropriately intense and/or which may lead to avoidance and affect your quality of life. It is very common for people to have a phobia of something – heights, spiders, water… Phobias generally don't diminish over time because the sufferer tends to avoid the thing he or she fears. There are three main types of phobia. Specific phobias are fears of specific objects or situations (brontophobia, for example, is the fear of thunder). Social phobias are fears of a range of situations where you may be exposed to evaluation (such as public speaking). Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving a place of safety. It is often associated with panic because the fear response is very powerful. Advice on social phobia can be found in the section on this website on Social Anxiety and Shyness. Advice on agoraphobia can be found in the section on Panic.

What is the difference between normal fear and a phobia? There are many situations or objects that frequently trigger fear in people. A fear becomes a phobia when it is out of proportion to the real level of danger in a situation and when it leads to reactions that are extreme. For some people, phobias can significantly interfere with their life and their happiness.

People with specific phobias feel very anxious if they have to face up to their fear, and usually, try to escape from the situation as quickly as they can. They may also feel anxious if they think they are likely to meet the feared object or situation in the near future. Because their fear is so extreme, they will often go to great lengths to avoid the particular object or situation that frightens them.

Some people with phobias are symptom-free as long as they can avoid the feared object or situation and – for the most part – they are able to carry on with their lives normally. However, phobias and the related anxiety can become so severe that they cause problems in day-to-day living. For example, fear of needles could stop someone from going for an important medical test, and a fear of thunderstorms could prevent someone from going outside every time it looked as if it might rain.

When people come into contact with the object or situation that terrifies them or leaves them panic-stricken, they experience a variety of symptoms. Physical symptoms of anxiety almost always occur. These may include increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, fast and shallow breathing, muscle tension or weakness, dizziness, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.