According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over 6 million Americans suffer from specific phobias. A specific phobia is an anxiety disorder that is based on a certain fear. These fears vary greatly from person to person and usually stem from experiences in childhood. Specific phobias go beyond being simply adverse to a certain object or situation and can actually cause panic attacks.
Are Phobias Controlling your Life?
Specific phobias can be difficult to diagnose in comparison to rational fears. There are six main criteria points that doctors use to diagnose specific phobias. First, the fear must be persistent and unfading. In some people, this fear may also be felt even if the object is not around or the situation is not happening, simply because it might be around or happen in the future. The second criteria that must be met for diagnosis are acute anxiety, sometimes even leading to a panic attack when the object is around or the person is in the situation. Thirdly, the fear itself is irrational and excessive, because there is no immediate danger. Next, a person will start to avoid the object or situation, even if this disrupts daily life. Another criterion is that it disrupts life to the point where it interferes with normal daily functioning and a considerable amount of time is spent worrying about the phobia. Lastly, these symptoms are not attributed to another anxiety condition or disorder.
Fears vary widely but fall into five categories:
Animals, natural environments, blood and injury, situational, and others. In some cases, treatment is not necessary. For example, if you have a fear of airplanes, you can simply choose not to fly throughout your life. However, once the phobia begins to disrupt your functioning on a daily basis, you should see your doctor for treatment. Behavior therapy is usually the best treatment you can get for a specific phobia. With this process, the person is exposed to the object or situation, slowly at first, and with pictures or visualization. Virtual reality is also great for helping others to overcome specific phobias.
It is simply important to seek help if a specific phobia is ruining your life. You can ask your doctor for tips to help you overcome a panic attack or ways in which to avoid objects or situations in healthy ways. While you may never be “cured” from your specific phobia, it is totally possible to let it go enough to be able to live your life normally on a day-to-day basis.