From fear to peace
What is a phobia?
A phobia is a specific type of a heightened sense of anxiety. The difference between a typical bad fear or anxiety and a phobia is that the phobia is overwhelming and debilitating. A person with a phobia will respond to the specific trigger in an extreme way. A phobia appears irrational — except, perhaps, to the person suffering from it!
For example, a person with a phobia of spiders might run away or freeze with fear when faced with a spider, even when that spider could not hurt them. Or, someone with a phobia of an escalator cannot use one; some phobics might be able to manage to use one, but only with preparation but still filled with fear.
Some phobias are specific; say, a fear of frogs, rain, or even a specific number. Some are generalised, such as the fear of being in public or speaking to strangers.
The line between a phobia and a bad anxiety about something can be blurry; in everyday language, we might conflate the two.
Many people throughout the world suffer from a phobia.
How common are phobias?
It’s estimated that as many as 10 million people in the UK (roughly one out of every seven people) suffer from one or more phobias. If you are one of them, you aren’t alone!
Some phobias are common. Phobias can range from the commonplace — public speaking, one of the most common, is rated by some people as worse than death! — to the unusual — fear of water, certain colours, belly buttons, beards, frogs, and more.
How do you recognise a phobia?
The simple way is to compare your response with other people’s responses. When other people are remaining calm, are you panicking, running away or behaving in an otherwise abnormal way? Does your phobia prevent you from living normally or from having peace of mind? Does it interfere with normal activities, for example are you afraid to board an aeroplane?
For a medical definition, the NHS website describes a phobia. There are several symptoms, such as sweating, heart palpitations, racing mind, trembling; but each person has their own set of symptoms.
However, if you have a phobia, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you that!
Where does a phobia come from?
A phobia can develop in different ways.
Sometimes, it comes from a single learning event, when something fearful and shocking happens alongside something else, which might be unrelated or unimportant, and the brain connects the two things. For example, if someone is mugged in a museum, they might develop a phobia of all museums, even though the museum wasn’t the cause of the mugging.
As another example, as a teenager, I was in a bad car accident where the driver rolled the car. For a few years afterwards I had a bad anxiety (not quite a phobia) of all cars until I learned how to let go of that.
Sometimes, a phobia comes from a repeated series of events. A person who is repeatedly abused by an abuser who sings a certain song might develop a phobia of that specific song.
A phobia can also develop as a metaphor. At one time many years ago, I developed a phobia of elevators. It seemed to pop up from nowhere. A couple of months later, I resolved a life problem that was causing me to have problems; metaphorically, I had felt like I was falling. My elevator phobia vanished! The phobia was a metaphor for my life problem, and I hadn’t realised it at the time. It’s not always obvious.
You can learn a phobia from someone else. If a mother is terrified of birds, it’s possible that her children will learn to have the same phobia.
We don’t always know where a phobia comes from, but even when we do, that by itself doesn’t help the sufferer to get rid of the phobia and respond normally to the specific trigger.
What can you do about a phobia?
In the UK, doctors will typically prescribe drugs or several sessions of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
However, straightforward phobias will usually respond well to one or two sessions of a different type of therapy such as hypnotherapy or NLP. Phobias that have a more complex underpinning might take a few sessions.
In some cases, a phobia can go quickly; when it is a simple phobia without a complicated background, I have on occasion removed someone’s phobia in just 10 minutes. They don’t all go quite that easily; as you might have gathered from the previous descriptions, phobias come in different guises and have different backgrounds to them. Some might take more sessions to eradicate, especially when the phobia is connected to something else (as in my case when I had that phobia of elevators — fixing my life problem was vital to fixing the phobia).
If you find that you are having a phobic reaction to something, it might help to stop, and concentrate on your breathing. That won’t get rid of the phobia, but it might help you to cope with the situation in the meantime.
Exposure therapy is where you are gradually and steadily exposed over time to the trigger more and more, until your brain realises that, actually, this isn’t dangerous after all. However, this isn’t for everyone. After all, if you have a phobia of snakes, how awful it is to be exposed to them! Whenever possible, I prefer to avoid exposure therapy in favour of something a lot more pleasant!
A phobia could go in as little as 10 minutes, but it could also take two or three sessions.
If you have a problem with anxiety, irrational fears, or phobias, If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, and need someone to help you learn how to cope, call me in complete confidence to discuss how you can be helped.