Recent studies show that 1 in 7 Australians will suffer from a phobia at some point in their lifetime. Put simply, a phobia is an extreme fear of a specific thing or situation (e.g., dogs, tunnels, bridges, water, spiders, socialising, flying, heights, small spaces, germs etc). In fact, a phobia may be developed around any number of themes depending on life experience and perceptions. The common element is that the fear is so strong for the individual, it causes extreme anxiety which results in the person avoiding being triggered at any cost.
It is important to note however, that while the terms- fear, anxiety and phobia share similar meanings and traits, they are not one of the same. Fear is a natural emotional response that helps protect us from harm when we are faced with real imminent danger. Phobias on the other hand are identified as excessive anxiety or fear related to particular situations or objects that is disproportionate to the actual danger they present. When we are exposed to such phobic objects or situations, we experience extreme discomfort and dysfunction due to our avoidance behaviours, anxiety reactions and an exaggerated perception around potential danger.
For example, it is not uncommon for people to have a general fear of spiders. If one was to walk through a spider’s web during the night, it is a natural reaction to become panicked and remove themselves from the area, all the while swiping the web away from their body hoping the spider hasn’t crawled into their hair or on their body. However, unlike someone with a spider phobia, if an image of a spider was presented to the same person, they would not experience panic and feel the need to remove themselves from the view of the image. Those with a general fear of spiders will react in proportion to the threat presented by the spider. In comparison, someone with a spider phobia who will react in an extreme manner regardless of the level of threat presented.
When left unchecked, phobias can control a person’s choices and ultimately prevent them from having a bright and enjoyable life. For instance, a student who has a phobia of becoming physically unwell in public may reduce the number of times that they attend campus, ultimately affecting their education and social life. Someone who has a dog phobia may fear that they will come across an off-leash dog while going for a walk, subsequently preventing them from walking outdoors. Those who have a phobia around being in enclosed spaces may go to lengths to avoid tunnels, lifts and rooms with poor ventilation, limiting the easy flow of their day-to-day activities.
All in all, having a phobia can be a complete pain and inconvenience to say the least.
At Plenish Mind Health we can assist with changing thought patterns so phobias don’t negatively impact your quality of life. By unravelling the thoughts and beliefs associated with the phobia, you can learn new ways to approach the situation, leaving the problematic behaviours behind.