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A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

If it becomes very severe, you may start to organise your life around avoiding the thing that is making you afraid. This makes the anxiety worse, as well as being distressing and having an impact on life.

“I was really embarrassed to tell people about my phobia as it seemed so irrational but it was ruling my life.”

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What is it?

Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.

They are generally described as specific (simple) or as complex.

Specific or simple phobias are a fear of a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older. Common examples of what we can be afraid of are:

  • animals, such as dogs or spiders
  • blood or vomit
  • visiting the dentist or flying
  • heights, deep water
  • sexual performance or pregnancy

Complex phobias are more disabling and tend to develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance. The two most common complex phobias are agoraphobia and social phobia.

Agoraphobia is often thought to be a fear of open spaces, but it is really a fear of getting anxious in a place or situation where escaping may be difficult if they have a panic attack. See Panic Disorder.

With social phobia, being with others is frightening and you may start to avoid social situations for fear of embarrassing yourself or being humiliated in public.

In severe cases, this can become debilitating and may prevent you from carrying out everyday activities, such as eating out or meeting friends.

Common Symptoms

All phobias can limit your daily activities and may cause severe anxiety and depression.

You may avoid coming into contact with the thing that causes you fear and anxiety.

You may be fearful of experiencing anxiety itself because it feels so uncomfortable.

You may have panic attacks. Panic attacks can be very frightening and distressing. The symptoms often occur suddenly and without warning. See Panic Disorder.

You may experience physical symptoms of anxiety when faced with the thing you fear including:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes or chills
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • a choking sensation
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • nausea
  • headaches and dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears
  • confusion or disorientation

You may also experience psychological symptoms, such as fear of losing control, fear of fainting, feelings of dread, or fear of dying.

In complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia, the effects can be very detrimental on your everyday life and emotional wellbeing.

The symptoms experienced by people with agoraphobia can vary in severity. For example, some people can feel very anxious if they have to leave their home to go the shops. Others may feel relatively comfortable travelling short distances from their home.

If you have a social phobia, the thought of being seen in public or at social events can make you feel frightened, anxious and vulnerable.

How Let's Talk can help

At Let’s Talk we will assess your needs and offer you the appropriate treatment to help you to get back on track. The help we offer may include self-help,  attending a course, individual guided self-help over the telephone or face-to-face therapy sessions. You may also be advised by your GP to consider anti-depressant medication.

Psychological help will aim at helping you face your fears very gradually so that your anxiety decreases and your sense of control increases. CBT is the most effective way to manage both specific and complex phobias.