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Phobias

Phobia is described in the dictionary as a morbid fear that has no reasonable basis and cannot be controlled. Most phobia sufferers would agree with that, they understand that their fears are basically groundless, but still cannot overcome them. Phobias are also described as great aversion and persistent fear, which adds up to an anxiety disorder. Phobia sufferers don’t care what it is called; they just wish it be rid of them. This is easier said than done. There isn’t any medication to help mitigate the irrational fears, only the side effects of the symptoms. Tranquilizing drugs can help the side effects, but the actual phobia needs to be tackled differently.

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A phobia is a mental problem that can be cured, but it takes the full cooperation of the patient. In many cases just thinking about the phobia is enough to trigger panic or anxiety attacks. There is also a phobia called ‘Photophobia’ which is the fear of actually developing a phobia. The medical profession diagnoses a person phobic when they change their lives to avoid what they are phobic about. The preferred method of treatment is CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy. This is the experience of facing the object of the phobia, also known as exposure therapy. A gradual closeness to the object of the fear brings a desensitization. This can be started with pictures or photographs, and then looking at the object at close quarters to assure the patient that in reality there isn’t any danger. The final step is holding or touching. This a very simplified example of the treatment used, but all depends on what phobia the person has and the level of distress that it causes them. Another route is psychotherapy. It is believed that most phobias are developed between the ages of fifteen and twenty, but nobody has a real answer why they manifest themselves between those particular ages. There are hundreds or maybe even thousands of phobias. What follows are some of the most common phobias found in the world today.

Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia is a specific phobia that is the fear of spiders. It is not clear what causes it, but most people dislike spiders and creepy-crawly insects. It also applies to other arachnid species like scorpions. Although a great many spiders are venomous, they tend to ignore humans and our encounters with them are usually accidental. For this reason most species are not dangerous to us. A lot of people feel a chill or goose bumps when seeing the bigger and more outlandishly colored types, but an arachnophobic may exhibit greater physical reactions to them.

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Even looking at a web can produce a panic or anxiety attack. For some reason it is more prevalent in European societies than elsewhere. In some countries and societies spiders are used as food and so there is a noted lack of this type of phobia. One theory is that it is of racial evolutionary psychological origin; an ancestral fear. Another is that we learn to fear spiders and that it is more of a cultural fear than a genetic one.

Social Phobia

This is probably the most common phobia. It can be specific to a particular situation or is suffered in a wider sense. The main component is people, whatever the situation may be. People with social phobias fear public humiliation above all else. Millions suffer from this and it can affect people in different ways, from mild nervousness to psychosomatic physical problems. It is a question of the degree of the affliction. These symptoms can manifest themselves as the urge to vomit or actual throwing up, shaking of limbs, copious sweating and racing hearts. For many, every day activities like working or going to school can become a chore that is dreaded, and leads to a very poor quality of life. Women seem to be afflicted more than men by this kind of phobia. Although most symptoms start in adolescence, it can begin in early childhood too. Many sufferers tend to have low self-esteem and are insecure in their relationships with other people. They dislike criticism and hate being the center of attention. Social phobia sufferers shun groups, avoid eye contact, and don’t like starting conversations or meeting complete strangers. Working with others is painful for adults, and children suffer when they have to participate in group activities at school. This stunts their personal growth, whether academically or career wise. If not treated these symptoms can lead to other problems such as depression, panic, or post-traumatic stress disorders. Some sufferers fall into substance abuse to alleviate their problem. There doesn’t seem to be one fundamental cause for this phobia. Some carry the seed of this phobia in their genes because they have a more nervous disposition than others. Research has shown that this is a hereditary trait, but why nervousness develops into full blown phobia, nobody knows. The home environment and parental behavior are also considered factors.

Agoraphobia

Most people believe that this phobia is just the fear of wide open spaces, but it is more complex than that. What frightens agoraphobics is the idea of getting into or putting themselves into a situation from which they cannot escape from. Also entering a situation or place from where they can’t get any help, if things turn out badly. What they cannot explain is what they are escaping from or how it will turn out badly. This condition has mild to severe symptoms. Sufferers may avoid leaving the safety of their own homes or only go out accompanied by someone they trust. Using public transport or shopping in commercial centers is avoided. In today’s world an agoraphobic can easily avoid these situations by ordering things by phone or online. The physical symptoms are like social phobia, but with a few extras. They may suffer faintness, dizziness, tinnitus, difficulty in swallowing, diarrhea and chest pains as well as panic attacks. Mentally, they may feel that they will lose control of themselves and that they are being stared at. They may also feel acute embarrassment, and worry about such things as suffocation, loss of their sanity and heart failure. On top of which they worry about having no escape or exit. Because of all this they tend to stay away from situations or places where there are crowds or many people in restricted spaces such as lifts, buses and trains etc. They also avoid going far from their own homes.

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Agoraphobia can also be caused by other fears. Doctors believe that much agoraphobia stems from earlier panic attacks that are then associated in the person’s mind with the situation or place where they first took place. On the other hand, there are agoraphobics that have never suffered any previous panic or anxiety attacks. Women are twice as likely to develop this phobia as men. The age group that it most commonly affects is 18-35. It is estimated that two out of every one hundred people in the U.K. have some form of agoraphobia, and that it is possible to cure at least one third of them completely using today’s techniques. Unfortunately, agoraphobia may return because of a stressful lifestyle.

Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is the opposite of agoraphobia because it is the fear of small or confined spaces, but they do share one common trait. The sufferer imagines that there isn’t any escape form wherever they are. People with claustrophobia tend to try and avoid a multitude of physical places. Some are quite surprising, but studies reveal that the severity of the condition varies and so do the areas where the sufferers feel danger. Many places are quite obvious like lifts, subway trains, rooms without windows or sealed windows and planes. Others added to the list are car washes, revolving doors, public toilets, changing rooms, MRI scanners and cars with central locking. Even sitting in a chair with arms such as barbershop seats can cause some to have anxiety attacks. It is all about the perception of confinement and the danger that represents. The physical sensations they can experience are numbness or pins and needles, cold chills and hot flushes, choking, butterflies in the stomach and nausea. The psychological consequences are profound feelings of dread, a sense of losing control, the fear of fainting or dying.

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Claustrophobia is often caused by a traumatic event in childhood. Most kids like to explore and go places where they shouldn’t, and sometimes they get into tight spots. Getting stuck can frighten children and give rise to panic. These feelings may emerge again in later life under different circumstances, but with the same sensation of confinement and suffocation. It is also believed to be conditioning, as close confinement is equated with being trapped, which in turn means helpless and trapped. Between two to five percent of the world’s population suffer from this. Research has found that an area of the brain called Amygdala, which is responsible for our fight or flight decisions is smaller in phobia sufferers.

Acrophobia

A specific phobia that is the fear of heights, not to be confused with vertigo, which is spinning sensation that can affect people either looking up or down. It’s categorized as a space and motion phobia, and believed to be the result of conditioning or traumatic experience involving heights in some way. Fear or at least caution in regard to heights is an instinctive reaction among most mammals, including humans. Studies involving young children have proved that it is carried within our genes. The irrational fear of acrophobics is an extreme reaction and can be so bad that merely standing on a chair can bring on a panic attack. It affects twice as many women as men.

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The traditional treatment of acrophobia is exposure therapy, which is the technique of slowly exposing the sufferer to different heights at successively higher levels until the fear is reduced. Now virtual reality head sets are being used. The advantage of this method is that the patient is assured that he or she doesn’t actually have to ascend any heights during the treatment. They can remain on solid ground, so there isn’t any anticipatory anxiety to trigger a panic attack. The results of this method has been encouraging and so far it has proved equally as effective as exposure therapy. The other form of treatment is through medication. This type of phobia can be reduced by tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines or beta-blockers, but it is only short term relief and not a cure. That is not the only problem with sedatives; they can also become habit forming or addictive. The only way to rid someone of acrophobia is to tackle the root cause.

Necrophobia

Necrophobia is the morbid fear of dead things or anything related to death. Like most phobias, it usually starts with some kind of traumatic experience in childhood. One the most common causes is being obliged to attend a funeral at a very young age, when one doesn’t really understand the significance of what is happening. This can be especially bad for young minds if it is an open casket viewing. There are other causes such as unexpectedly watching someone die, or coming across the corpses of dead animals. The simple death of a loved one may trigger this phobia. Some cases have been due to an extreme reaction to death seen on TV or film, not only death itself but also themes related with death, such funerals, graveyards, tombstones and caskets. Apart from all the usual symptoms of phobia, necrophobics may also suffer from insomnia. Sufferers may avoid any activity that can possibly lead to death and to seeing dead things.

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Most will avoid museums where mummies are displayed or churches where embalmed bodies are on view. It may also lead to the dread of the dead returning to visit them as ghosts. It is considered to be more prevalent today than in the past because in most western countries we have become separated from the reality of death. In the past people died at home and was a natural part of growing up to older relatives pass away, nowadays the majority of people die in hospitals or hospices. We also don’t slaughter our own livestock for food, as was done in our grandfather’s time. Meat is purchased at the butcher’s shop or from a supermarket, and we rarely think of how it got there.

Necrophobia can easily be confused with ‘thanatophobia’ or death anxiety, which is the fear of one’s own death, dying or being dead. Again it is usually an experience in the past that sets the phobia in motion. Apart from seeing someone die or corpses it can be the result of a life threatening illness or accident. One theory is that the cause can be because the sufferer hasn’t a well-defined idea of the afterlife and this causes anxiety, which leads to the phobia. Another may be grounded in religious beliefs. In most religions there are clear rewards and punishments for those that die, depending upon their behaviors while living. The feeling of guilt may be the cause of anxiety; because the person may feel they have not been as good they should have been, and therefore will receive punishment in the next life.

Carcinophobia

This phobia is the fear of cancer. Although relatively rare, it affects a large number of people in the world. It often starts with a traumatic experience, in which the sufferer is in close contact with someone who has cancer or has died of it. Watching a close friend or loved one struggle with it may bring worry and anxiety and if it isn’t dealt with may turn into a full blown phobia. People who have previously had cancer may develop the phobia because of all the pain and suffering they have suffered before. Another way to develop it is by a misdiagnosis and instead of being relieved when the truth is revealed the person can’t stop thinking about it. It can also develop by just copying the reactions of others towards the disease. A person may come to hate the very idea of cancer and that can cause other problems. Simple headaches become tumors on the brain and every ache and pain can be the result of cancer.

Although it is irrational many phobia sufferers come to believe that cancer is contagious. It is hard for anyone to avoid the mention of cancer, as there are constant studies on the subject and published reports, claiming this or that causes cancer. It is a disease that is constantly in the public eye; almost everything seems to be the cause of cancer now. This adds to the anxiety and many sufferers go on to combine their phobia with others such as ‘hypochondria’ and ‘germophobia’. The fear and hate of this disease can also turn into denial. So many people will avoid medical check-ups, with the reasoning that they won’t have cancer if they aren’t diagnosed with it, but will continue to suffer from the phobia. They will change their lives in drastic ways, by refusing to go out, stopping work or not using food stuffs and other products that may be carcinogenic. Unlike other phobia sufferers they can’t avoid specific places or situations as they carry their phobia around with them. Only treatment not avoidance can help them. Not all cancer is fatal and there many forms that are curable or at least liveable. Recently, it has been found that hypnotherapy has had good results in curing this phobia.

1. The Phobia List www.phobialist.com

2. NHS-Choices www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Phobias

3. The Fear Factor: Phobias-WebMD www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide

4. Mind-Phobias www.mind.org.uk

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