Phobic anxiety is often like a low level panic disorder. If someone is forced into engaging with a phobic situation they may well develop a full blown panic attack, (see last weeks blog). Throughout this mini series on anxiety it is important to remember that anxiety is a good thing. It is our friend that has kept use safe throughout evolution. Being anxious about heights kept us safe when we lived in trees. Being anxious about predators kept us from being eaten. In our modern world being anxious about electricity keeps us from being electrocuted and being anxious about roads saves us from being run over. Anxiety is good. Anxiety disorder is a problem.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines a phobia as…
…an extreme, irrational fear of a specific object or situation. A phobia is classified as a type of anxiety disorder, since anxiety is the chief symptom experienced by the sufferer. Phobias are thought to be learned emotional responses.
Many years ago I came across a man, in psychiatry, who was terrified of being turned into orange juice. Obviously this could not have any logical component. If he saw an orange his phobic response would make him distressed and if he could get away from the orange he would develop a full blown panic attack. It can be easy to look at other people’s phobias and fears a see them as silly or even stupid. The thing to realise is that the trigger to someone’s fear is very real to them. It is their reality.
Most phobic responses have a causal event. To be phobic about something infers that there is a negative connection to it. A difficult flight involving turbulence or a difficult landing in the wind can create a phobia to flying. Food poisoning from eating a particular food can create a phobic avoidance of that food or that restaurant forever.
Most of us are phobic about something. It could anything from a colour to a fairground ride. One the relationship has been made the mere mention of the trigger can cause the symptoms that are common to all anxieties.
- hot flushes or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- a choking sensation
- rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- pain or tightness in the chest
- a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
- headaches and dizziness
- feeling faint
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- confusion or disorientation
Complex phobias include agoraphobia and claustrophobia.
Talking treatments, such as counselling, are often very effective at treating phobias. In particular, hypnotherapy, Cognitve Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and one to one counselling. Medication maybe prescribed for anxiety but is not usually very effective for phobias.
The important things is that phobias are learned and can be unlearned.
Take care and be happy