Phobias are difficult to understand and many experts concede that they are generally irrational in nature. But they are very real and there are people who suffer such intense phobias that it may severely impede their day-to-day life. When the phobia is so strong that it results in anxiety attacks, the sufferer needs professional assistance.
What is a Phobia?
A phobia is an intense fear of a particular object that leads to (a) avoidance of that object and (b) the experience of intense anxiety in its real or even, imagined presence. The strength of a phobic reaction exists in a range; some are manageable while others are intense enough to be considered considered as a manifestation of clinical anxiety disorders. The latter type of phobia requires the assistance of a mental health professional.
What can Trigger Phobia?
Almost anything can be the object of a phobia. This is because it is not the object of the phobia that defines the condition, but the person’s reaction to it. What’s considered as harmless by people without phobia can be terrifying to a person with it.
The following are just some of the specific known phobias:
- Acrophobia – fear of being in high places.
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces
- Aquaphobia – fear of water
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
- Astraphobia – fear of thunder, lightning and other weather conditions
- Aviatophobia – fear of flying
- Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed and small spaces
- Gelotophobia – fear of being laughed at
- Hemophobia – fear of blood
- Herpetophobia – fear of reptiles, amphibians and other slimy creatures
- Necrophobia – fear of the dying; fear of the dead
- Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
Sometimes phobias are developed from negative experiences with the target of the phobia in the past. For example, a child who had an intense brush in with a large dog can develop a fear of dogs. A person who just survived a natural disaster can develop a fear of lightning and thunder. Someone with a fear of water may be reacting to an experience of drowning as a child. When your coping resources are not enough to deal with a terrifying ordeal the first time around, your mind and body may get conditioned to avoid similar situations again. It’s part of our natural instinct for survival. Sometimes a person can have a phobia of something that they’ve never had a bad experience with. For instance, many small children have temporary phobias of things like clowns and bugs even though they have never been hurt by either. Adults can have phobias of heights, needles, flying or driving over bridges even though they’ve never had any trouble with any of these issues in this lifetime.
How to Deal with Phobias
Phobias are curable mental health conditions. At the moment there are various schools of thought that address phobic reactions, and many of them have a list of successful treatments to their name. Some of the most noteworthy are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approaches a phobic reaction in two ways. In the first one, the irrational thoughts that trigger, maintain or exacerbate an anxiety reaction are addressed. For example, the idea that “I will drown again if I step into a swimming pool,” among aquaphobics can be refuted through persistent therapeutic debate. In the second step, the behavior regarding the object of the fear is addressed. Gradual desensitization, for example, may be used so that the patient can slowly get used to what he or she is avoiding.
Emotional Freedom Technique and other types of “energy psychology” utilize the meridian system to neutralize phobias. The person uses his own fingers to lightly tap on his body at 8 designated points (specific points on the meridian pathways) while thinking of or looking at the phobic stimulus. The tapping somehow reorganizes the neuroal pathways of the brain so that the phobic item is no longer frightening. The father of energy psychology – Dr. Roger Callahan – has written a book entitled “The Five Minute Phobia Cure.” It points to the fact that many people can heal their phobias very quickly using this approach. It is suitable for children as well as adults. Since it is suitable as a self-help tool as well and is easy to use, it is an excellent first intervention with kids.
Another mind-body approach to dealing with phobic reactions is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In this method, eye movements that are typical when a person is having a phobic reaction are carefully returned to normal. The intervention is believed to affect the brain processes that are behind phobic reactions. EMDR requires a skilled therapist.
Bach Flower Therapy can help diminish phobias along with other interventions. The remedies Mimulus and Rock Rose are particularly helpful for phobias. For fear of public speaking, the remedies Cerato and Larch may also be indicated. For phobias that cause intense, uncontrollable upset, the remedy Cherry Plum may help. If someone knows that they will be in a situation that provokes their phobia, then they should take Rescue Remedy – a pre-mixed Bach Flower Remedy that helps one cope with shock, panic and overwhelming fear. For instance, someone who has a phobia of flying can take Rescue Remedy in the days leading up to the flight, in the hours before the flight and on the flight itself.
Waiting for a phobia to just disappear is only appropriate when the phobia occurs in children under 4 years of age. So many of young children’s fears are developmental and will indeed fade on their own. However, if a child is suffering with a fear – even though he is very small – it is certainly worth helping him to attain relief with one of the more simple interventions. A common phobia of toddlers is the toilet. Many small kids are afraid to have a bowel movement in the toilet. Bach Flower Remedies such as mimulus and rock rose can help melt this fear away. Fears that persist in kids aged 5 and up should be treated, since they may not at this point, just vanish on their own.