Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are brought about by an extreme and often irrational fear of a particular situation or object. Examples of phobias include fear of flying, fear of birds, fear of heights or fear of leaving home. While many people are nervous during certain situations or encounters, the intense fear brought about by specific phobias will often interfere with daily life by forcing the patient to avoid contact with certain places or things, therefore limiting participation in common or necessary daily events.

Symptoms of Specific Phobias

Symptoms may vary depending upon which one of the specific phobias a person is experiencing, but there are several common signs that signify this type of disorder. Usually any object or situation that causes extreme fear will invoke a similar reaction among those suffering from a phobia. The following are things to look for if this disorder is suspected:

  • Extreme and intense fear that interferes with daily routine
  • Panic, terror or reaction that is often inconsistent or irrational
  • Anxiety toward a scenario that causes nausea, diarrhea, heart palpitations, cold sweats, trembling, shortness of breath or dizziness
  • Anxiety in anticipation of certain events causing distress or avoidance of normal situations because of 'what may happen'
  • Feelings of helplessness or lack of control
  • Problems sleeping

Causes of Specific Phobias

While there is no evidence for a particular cause for specific phobias, one of the best theories involves a long history with trauma associated with the event or situation. As an example, if a child is bitten by one or more dogs, this event may invoke a lifetime and excessive fear of all dogs. Specific phobias involving the fear of dogs may force a person to avoid going for a walk because of the potential to see a dog along the way. Panic and fear can also be learned from watching someone else who acts fearfully, or reading or repeatedly hearing about a fearful situation, such as plane crashes. Note, however, that some specific phobias don't seem to be specifically linked to a learned or experienced event. In these cases, genetics or brain chemical imbalance may be a contributing factor.

Diagnosis of Specific Phobias

A mental disorder regarding specific phobias may be diagnosed if the fear of an object or situation is interfering and adversely affecting daily life, or causing alternate symptoms such as depression, loss of control or helplessness. If a physical examination presents no evidence of ailment, an analysis will be done by a psychologist or psychiatrist to determine symptoms and assess behavior. Treatment options can then be suggested based upon the symptoms and specific needs of the individual.

Treating Specific Phobias

The most effective treatment will vary by individual and circumstance. A bit of trial and error may be necessary and often, combining different treatment methods will be the best way to alleviate symptoms of specific phobias. Of the many treatment options available, it's best to seek professional advice before making your selection.

  • Traditional medication, such as an anti-anxiety prescription, can alleviate feelings of panic and terror associated with a specific object or event.
  • Counseling or psychotherapy can assist the patient in learning new skills to overcome the paralyzing fear.
  • Cognitive therapy is a type of support than can teach the ability to recognize certain behaviors that may be adding to the disorder. An example may be curbing excessive attention to the very thing that makes someone afraid, or facing a fearful situation in order to overcome the phobia.
  • Changes to diet and lifestyle can help bring brain chemical back into balance, thereby alleviating some of symptoms of the disorder.
  • Relaxation, breathing and meditative techniques can bring about many forms of healing, both mentally and physically.
  • Joining a support group with others who experience specific phobias can help a patient to heal on emotional and psychological levels.