Phobias are a very natural part of life – many people have them – so it can be surprising to think of phobias as a form of anxiety disorder.
Because it’s true: even the most common phobias (fear of the dark, fear of spiders, fear of heights, etc.) can trigger the familiar signs of anxiety and panic attacks in people, ranging from mere avoidance to abject fear. But how do phobias work? Why do we have them? How can we get over them? Is it even possible to do that?
While there’s nothing wrong with being scared of certain things, what defines a phobia as an anxiety disorder is that the fear is often unwarranted and irrational. The American Psychiatric Association explains that people with phobias are often aware of this, but, as is true of any anxiety disorder, they cannot control the fear and horror that grips them when they are exposed to their phobia.
Phobias can fall into a couple of general categories. Chief among them are specific phobias, involving an extreme fear based on something specific:
- Fear of a particular animal (like spiders)
- Fear of a particular social situation (like a job interview)
- Fear of a particular place
- Fear of a particular activity (like speaking in public)
Then there is agoraphobia, where a person is afraid of being in a situation where there is no perceived method of escape. The root of that fear is that if something bad happens, the person is not able to leave the area. This is why some people are afraid of elevators or airplane cabins, or why they fear being in crowded areas. Severe cases of agoraphobia can render a person incapable of leaving their own home.
What Makes a Phobia an Anxiety Disorder?
Phobias are incredibly common – it is estimated that over 50 million people in the United States have a phobia – but when a phobia directly or indirectly causes a disruption in a person’s life, this is when the issue needs to be addressed. For example, some people go to extreme lengths to avoid whatever their phobia is, like refusing to leave home, as stated above. This can result in a significant deterioration in quality of life, if social interactions, job and academic performance, and hobbies and activities are ignored in favor of avoiding the source of the phobia.
Also, by their nature of being anxiety disorders, phobias can lead to, or exacerbate, the use of dangerous drugs (and dangerous levels of alcohol use). The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that sufferers use drugs or alcohol “to decrease the fear and anxiety associated with their illness.” In reality, however, this use of controlled substances can lead to addiction and further mental health concerns.
How Do Phobias Form? What Can Be Done About Them?
There are a number of theories to explain how and why phobias form. For example, a traumatic incident in childhood might create a lifelong negative association – a child being bitten by a dog becomes an adult with a dislike of dogs and a fear of the breed of dog that bit him or her. Some people experience panic attacks in certain situations, and thus develop a phobia of being in that situation in case the panic attack happens again. If they find themselves in that situation, they have an adverse reaction because of their phobia, not because of the first panic attack.
However a phobia forms, and whatever the phobia is, there’s always hope. If you find yourself feeling trapped and helpless because of your phobia, call us here at Black Bear Lodge. There are various medication options for addressing the anxiety caused by phobias and psychotherapy options for learning how to control your thoughts and behavior when confronted with the source of your phobia. Whatever your needs are, there is a solution, and we want to help you find it. Call us today.