Understanding Phobias

IMAGE Marion is so afraid of bugs that her social life has suffered drastically. Whenever friends invite her to go on a picnic or even to a pool party, she finds a reason to say no. Recently, she stopped joining her co-workers for lunch in the cafeteria because one day there was a fly buzzing around their table. She has had this fear since she got a bee sting in fourth grade. Brad cannot remember when or why he became so afraid of riding in elevators. But, last month he turned down an excellent job promotion because it would have required moving his office up to the tenth floor. Both Marion and Brad are too embarrassed to tell anyone about their fears. Unfortunately, they do not know they have a treatable disorder—specific phobia.

What Are Phobias?

Everyone has at least some fears and situations they try to avoid. What distinguishes phobias from ordinary fears is that the anxiety:
  • Is irrational
  • Is more intense and persistent
  • Usually leads to aggressive avoidance of the objects or situations that cause the fear
  • Interferes with everyday routines, work, or relationships, and causes significant distress
Adults with phobias usually realize their fear is irrational. Children, however, may not, which makes it even more difficult to control.Consider the fear of flying. Many people have some apprehension about flying, but it does not keep them permanently grounded. Perhaps a bad experience or news coverage of a plane crash scared you. Over time, that fear manifested itself in your thoughts and dreams to a point where you miss job interviews or family vacations. Whatever the reason, if you avoid flying to the point it affects your quality of life, you have a phobia. Phobias are a common type of anxiety disorder. 3 types of phobias are:
  • Specific phobia—fear of a specific object or situation that causes avoidance of normal activities
  • Social phobia—fear of being judged by other people and acting in a way that could cause embarrassment or humiliation
  • Agoraphobia—fear of being in a public place, especially when anticipating it you may have a panic attack
This article focuses on specific phobias.

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