Definition of phobia, causes, types, treatment

Definition of phobia, causes, types, treatment
Definition of phobia, causes, types, treatment

Phobias are one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that 8% of adults in the United States suffer from some form of phobia. Women are more likely to have phobias than men. Typical symptoms of a phobia can include nausea, trembling, rapid heartbeat, a feeling of unreality, and a preoccupation with the object of fear.

So what is a phobia?

A phobia is the fear of something that is unlikely to cause harm. The word itself comes from the Greek word Phobos, which means fear or terror.

A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear reaction. If you have a phobia, you may feel a deep sense of dread or panic when faced with the source of your fear. It can be a fear of a particular place, situation, or thing. Unlike general anxiety disorders, phobias are usually associated with something specific.

The effect of a phobia can range from annoying to severely disabling. People with phobias often realize that their fear is irrational, but they are unable to do anything about it. These fears can interfere with work, school, and personal relationships.

A phobia is an exaggerated and irrational fear.

The term "phobia" is often used to refer to a fear of a particular cause. However, there are three types of phobias recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). These include:

  • Specific phobia: This is an intense and irrational fear of a specific stimulus.

  • Social phobia, or social anxiety: This is a deep fear of public humiliation and of being singled out or judged by others in a social situation. The idea of ​​large social gatherings is terrifying for someone with social anxiety. It's not like being shy.

  • Agoraphobia: Fear of situations from which it is difficult to escape if the person is in a state of extreme panic, such as being in an elevator or being outside. It is usually misunderstood as a fear of open spaces but it can also apply to being confined to a small space, such as an elevator or on public transportation. People with agoraphobia have an increased risk of developing panic disorder.

Specific phobias are known as simple phobias as they can be linked to a specific cause that may not occur frequently in an individual's daily life, such as snakes. So it is not likely to affect daily life significantly.

Social anxiety and agoraphobia are known as complex phobias, as their etiology is difficult to identify. People with complex phobias can find it difficult to avoid stimuli, such as leaving the house or being in a large crowd.

A phobia becomes diagnosable when a person begins to organize his life around avoiding the cause of his fear. It is more dangerous than the normal fear reaction. People with phobias have an intense need to avoid anything that worries them.

What are the causes of phobia, and why are we afraid of things that may be normal for some?

Both genetic and environmental factors can cause phobias. Children who have a relative with an anxiety disorder are at risk of developing a phobia. Traumatic events, such as nearly drowning, can trigger phobias. Exposure to confined spaces, extreme heights, and animal or insect bites can all be sources of phobias.

People with medical conditions or persistent health concerns often have a phobia. There is a high percentage of people who develop phobias after TBI. Substance abuse and depression are also associated with phobias.

Phobias have different symptoms than serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. In schizophrenia, people experience visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and negative symptoms such as anhedonia and disorganized symptoms. The phobia may be irrational, but people with phobias do not fail the reality test.

  • A phobia may be due to a specific event or trauma that a person has experienced at some time in their life.
  • It may be an acquired reaction that a person develops early in life due to a parent or sibling (brother or sister).
  • Heredity may play a role, and there is evidence to suggest that some people are born with more anxious tendencies than others.

How does a person who suffers from a phobia feel?

When a person suffers from a phobia, he feels an intense fear of a particular thing or situation. Phobias differ from ordinary fears in that they cause significant distress, and may interfere with life at home, work or school.

People with phobias actively avoid the phobic object or situation, or endure it in intense fear or anxiety.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are very common. It is estimated to affect more than 30 percent of adults in the United States at some time in their lives.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association identifies several of the most common phobias.

Agoraphobia, the fear of places or situations that elicit fear or helplessness, is distinguished as a particularly common fear with its unique diagnosis. Social phobias, which are fears related to social situations, are also distinguished by a unique diagnosis.

Specific phobias are a broad category of unique phobias related to specific objects and situations. Specific phobias affect an estimated 12.5 percent of American adults.

Phobias come in all shapes and sizes. Since there are an infinite number of objects and situations, the list of specific phobias is very long.

How does a phobia occur in our minds?

Certain areas of the brain store and remember potentially dangerous or fatal events.

If a person experiences a similar event later in their life, those areas of the brain recover the stressful memory, sometimes more than once. This causes the body to experience the same reaction.

In the case of a phobia, the areas of the brain that deal with fear and stress continue to inappropriately recall the feared event.

Researchers have found that the phobia is often associated with the amygdala, which is located behind the pituitary gland in the brain. The amygdala can trigger the release of "fight or flight" hormones. These put the body and mind on high alert and stressed.

Symptoms of phobia.

A person with a phobia suffers from the following symptoms. They are common to most phobias:

  • An uncontrollable feeling of anxiety when exposed to the source of fear
  • Feeling that the source of this fear must be avoided at all costs
  • Inability to function properly when exposed to a phobia

Acknowledging that fear is irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated, accompanied by an inability to control emotions

A person is likely to experience feelings of panic and extreme anxiety when exposed to something phobic. Physical effects of these sensations can include:

  • Sweating
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shivering
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Strange feeling in my stomach
  • Pins and needles
  • Dry mouth
  • Confusion and confusion
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Anxiety can be felt just by thinking about the topic of the phobia. In younger children, parents may notice that they are crying, becoming very clingy, or trying to hide behind a parent's legs or something. They may also produce tantrums to show their distress.

The different types of phobias

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association identifies several of the most common phobias.

According to the DSM, phobias are usually divided into five general categories:

  • Concerns about animals such as spiders, dogs, and insects.
  • Concerns about the natural environment, heights, thunder, and darkness.
  • Concerns about blood or medical problems such as injections, broken bones, and falls.
  • Situations related concerns such as flying, elevators, and driving, and others such as suffocation, loud noises, and drowning.

Types of phobia

Many people dislike certain situations or things, but for it to be a true phobia, the fear must interfere with everyday life. Here are a few of the most common ones:


Agoraphobia is the fear of places or situations from which you cannot escape. The word itself refers to "fear of open spaces". People with claustrophobia fear being in large crowds or being trapped outside the home. They often avoid social situations altogether and stay indoors.

Many people with claustrophobia fear having a panic attack in a place from which they cannot escape. Those with chronic health problems may fear they are experiencing a medical emergency in a public area or where help is not available.

Complex phobia

Complex phobias tend to have a more devastating or crushing effect on your life than specific phobias. It tends to develop when you're an adult.


This is known as performance anxiety, or the fear of public speaking. People with this phobia experience severe physical symptoms when they even think about being in front of a group of people. <Glossophobia treatments can include therapy or medications.


This is the fear of heights. People with this phobia avoid mountains, bridges, or the upper floors of buildings. Symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, and feeling as if they are going to die or lose consciousness.


This is the fear of closed or confined spaces. Severe claustrophobia can lead to disability, especially if it prevents you from getting into cars or elevators. <Learn more about claustrophobia, from additional symptoms to treatment options.


This is also known as a fear of flying.

Dentophobia: Dentophobia

It is the fear of the dentist or dental procedures. This phobia generally develops after an unpleasant experience in the dentist's office. It can be harmful if it prevents you from getting necessary dental care.


This is a phobia of blood or injury. A person with hemophobia may faint when they come into contact with their own or someone else's blood.


This means the fear of spiders.


This is a fear of dogs.


People with this phobia are afraid of snakes.


This phobia is the fear of the night or the dark. It is almost always a typical childhood fear. When it progresses past adolescence, it is considered a phobia.

Phobia treatment

Phobias are highly treatable, and people afflicted with them are always aware of their disorder. This helps diagnose a lot.

Talking to a psychiatrist or psychiatrist is a helpful first step in treating a phobia that has already been identified.

If the phobia does not cause serious problems, most people find that simply avoiding the source of their fear helps them stay in control. Many people with phobias will not seek treatment because these fears are often manageable.

The triggers of some phobias cannot be avoided, as is often the case with complex phobias. In these cases, talking to a mental health professional can be the first step to recovery.

Most phobias can be treated with appropriate treatment. There is no one treatment that works for everyone with a phobia. Treatment needs to be individualized to be successful.

A doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist may recommend behavioral therapy, medications, or a combination of both. Treatment aims to reduce symptoms of fear and anxiety and to help people manage their reactions to the subject of the phobia.

phobia medicines

The following medicines are effective in treating phobias:

Beta blockers

These can help reduce the physical signs of anxiety that can accompany a phobia.

Side effects may include stomach upset, tiredness, insomnia, and cold fingers.


Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually prescribed to people with phobias. They affect serotonin levels in the brain, and this can lead to a better mood.

SSRIs may initially cause nausea, trouble sleeping, and headaches.

If an SSRI does not work, a doctor may prescribe a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) for social phobia. Individuals undergoing an MAOI may have to avoid certain types of food. Side effects may initially include dizziness, upset stomach, restlessness, headache, and restlessness.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), such as clomipramine, or anafranil, have been found to help with phobia symptoms. Initial side effects can include drowsiness, blurred vision, constipation, difficulty urinating, irregular heartbeat, dry mouth, and tremors.


Benzodiazepines are an example of sedatives that may be prescribed for phobias. These may help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Sedatives should not be given to people with a history of alcoholism.

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strengthened its warning about benzodiazepines. Use of these medications can lead to physical dependence, and withdrawal can be life-threatening. Combining it with alcohol, opiates and other substances can be fatal. It is important to follow your doctor's instructions when using these medicines.

Behavioral therapy

There are a number of treatment options for phobias.

Desensitization, or exposure therapy

This can help people with phobias change their response to the source of the fear. They are gradually exposed to the cause of their phobia through a series of escalating steps. For example, a person with aerophobia, or fear of flying on an airplane, might take the following steps as directed:

  • They will first think about flying.
  • The wizard will ask them to look at pictures of the planes.
  • The person will go to the airport.
  • They will escalate further by sitting in the cockpit of a simulator plane.
  • Finally, they will board a plane.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

A doctor, therapist, or counselor helps a person with a phobia learn different ways to understand and interact with the source of their phobia. This can make acclimatization easier. Most importantly, cognitive behavioral therapy can teach a person with a phobia to control their feelings and thoughts.

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