A lot of people have phobias of different things or situations. It is a word used to describe an excessive fear or anxiety caused by a specific situation or thing even when there is no reason to be afraid or anxious. For instance, people love to swim especially during the hot summer months, but someone that has a fear of water (hydrophobia) will be too terrified to go near a swimming pool or lake. For someone else it could be heights that are feared or spiders or snakes.
Phobias can be embarrassing at times because the person will see him or herself being scared by things others can easily deal with. It may also lead to depression, stress and anxiety depending on the severity of the fear.
People with phobias often feel the best way to deal with their fear is to avoid the trigger but this could actually worsen the situation and could affect other areas of life if not properly controlled.
Two categories of phobias are specific phobias and complex phobias.
Specific phobias center around a particular thing or situation. They often develop in childhood or adolescence and lessen as you get older.
Some common specific phobias includes:
- Animal Phobias - such as spiders, snakes, rodents or dogs
- Environmental Phobias - such as water, germs or heights
- Bodily Phobias - such as blood, vomit or getting needles
- Situational Phobias - such as flying or going to the dentist
Complex phobias tend to be more disabling and tend to develop during adulthood. They are often associated with a deep rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance.
Two common complex phobias are:
- Agoraphobia - the fear of open spaces
- Social Phobia - also known as social anxiety disorder and centers around feeling anxious in social situations
Causes of phobia
It is unusual for a phobia to start after the age of 30; most of them begin during early childhood, teenage years, or early adulthood. They can be caused by a stressful situation or experience, a frightening event, or a parent or household member who has a phobia which the child becomes progressively aware of.
Common causes for specific (simple) phobias
These usually develop when the child is aged 4-8. In some cases, it may be the result of something that happened early in life. The trigger might have been an unpleasant experience in a confined space, which festered and developed into claustrophobia over time.
As mentioned above, witnessing a family member's phobia is a common cause for phobias that started during childhood. A child whose mother has arachnophobia is much more likely to develop the same phobia.
Experts stress that phobias picked up from parents are learned fears - they are not genetically inherited.
Common causes for complex phobias
The causes of agoraphobia or social phobia are still a mystery; nobody is sure exactly why they appear. Researchers believe they are caused by a combination of life experiences, brain chemistry, and genetics.
Social phobias are more likely to be caused by an extremely stressful experience than agoraphobia, researchers say.
Phobias and survival - there may be evolutionary explanations for many phobias. In prehistoric environments, remaining in wide open spaces would have increased the risk of being attacked and eaten by a predatory animal. The instinct to stay at home, especially for young children, aids survival.
Young children in their caves and huts would have had to learn to avoid dangerous snakes and spiders quickly.
Social phobia may have been a useful survival instinct during ancient and prehistoric times. Being among people you do not know, from perhaps another tribe, was much more dangerous than finding yourself among a crowd of strangers in a shopping mall today.
Common symptoms associated with most Phobias
- When exposed to the source of the fear, there is a sensation of uncontrollable anxiety
- A feeling that at all costs, the source of that fear must be avoided
- The anxiety is so overwhelming when confronted with the source of the fear, that the person is unable to function properly
- It is common for sufferers to acknowledge that their fears are irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated; however, in spite of this, they are unable to control their feelings
- Panic and intense anxiety
Diagnosis of Phobia
Unlike most disorders, phobias have no formal method of diagnosis because most people with phobias are always aware of the fact that they have the problem. The problem is that people will avoid any situation that leads to what they have a phobia for without knowing that they are worsening their phobia.
Natural remedies to help control phobias
There are many natural remedies that can help those with phobias overcome their fears and free themselves of the crippling anxiety associated with them.
Some of the following remedies can be very beneficial:
- Flower Remedies - Flower essences help to bring about a balance in negative mental states and emotions. Treatments vary depending on the mental/emotional state of the individual. By filling out a Bach Flower Remedy questionnaire a formula can be custom made to suit your exact needs.
- Rescue Remedy - This is a general Bach Flower Remedy made from the distilled essences of five flowers that helps calm the nervous system and ease stress.
- GABA - Taking a GABA supplement helps calm the brain and create a sense of well-being while maintaining one’s mental alertness.
- Aromatherapy - Certain essential oils can help to release tension and induce a feeling of calm. Try lavender, bergamot, jasmine or ylang-ylang in your bath or diffuser or in a massage oil.
Yoga, meditation and positive visualization can also be very beneficial in keeping a person calm and overcoming fears. Many people also find counselling can help set them on the right track towards conquering their fears.