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Understanding Fear and Phobias

Updated on May 24, 2012


We all live with fear, although many people can control their fear or maybe even overcome it, some people suffer severe phobias. I know I have a phobia of snakes, seeing them causes one of two reactions, flight or freeze. Either way seeing a snake, and it doesn’t matter how big or what type, sends my heart into overdrive, I begin to tremble, and look for an avenue of escape. My son on the other hand just picks it up and carries it away.

As David Myers points out in Psychology in Everyday life Phobias are just one of the five key types of anxiety disorders. They include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Myers, 2009)

According to the Mental Health America’s (MHA) website there are three main groups of phobias. (MHA, 2012)

· Specific phobias

· Social phobias

· Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia causes people to suffer anxiety or severe reactions about being in places or situations from which it might be difficult and / or embarrassing to escape or leave. I knew a young woman who would climb stairs regardless of height of building to avoid an elevator. When she was in a situation in which she had to ride in the elevator she would shake and have difficulty breathing and exit as soon as possible when it arrived at the destination. Others may fear being in a room full of people. Other specific phobias may develop into Agoraphobia when the person suffering from the phobia will begin to make adjustments in their lifestyle to avoid the possibility of encountering their fear trigger. In extreme cases, a person with agoraphobia may be afraid to leave the safety of their house.

Specific Phobias produce intense fear of a particular object or situation that may or may not be relatively safe. People who suffer from specific phobias are aware that their fear is irrational, but the thought of facing the object or situation often brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety like the example I gave earlier of my own reaction to snakes. Some of the more common specific phobiasinclude persistent fear of dogs, insects, or snakes; driving a car; heights; tunnels or bridges; thunderstorms; and/or flying.

Social Phobia is the fear of being embarrassed in front of other people. This type of phobia is sometimes believed tied to feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and can lead to severe anti-social tendencies and can lead to self-imposed isolation.

The root cause of phobias has not been identified though they seem to run in families and are slightly more common in women. Phobias like other types of anxiety disorders usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood

When a child has specific phobias or fears those fears usually disappear by the teenaged years, though in some cases the phobia may continue into adulthood.

Treatment for Phobias.

Phobias are taken very seriously by the medical industry and if you or someone you know is suffering from phobias you should schedule an appointment with your local doctor who will rule out other medical problems that may be causing your reaction to the phobia trigger. Once any other causes are ruled out the health care provider will direct you to a Mental Health Specialist, who can assist you in gaining control over the phobia. Behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy are very effective in treating these disorders.

Works Cited

MHA. (2012). Phobias. Retrieved from Mental Health America:

Myers, D. G. (2009). Psychology in Everyday Life. New York: Worth.


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