Over­com­ing Pho­bias

When is it more than fear? Our Health Writer, Colleen Shan­non, finds out.

The People's Friend - - Health -

WE all ex­pe­ri­ence fear; it’s part of be­ing hu­man and it can be a use­ful sur­vival in­stinct, too. When a spe­cific fear looms larger than the threat, it may be a pho­bia, which is a type of anx­i­ety dis­or­der.

Pho­bias are com­mon, but many peo­ple never seek treat­ment, which is un­for­tu­nate be­cause it can be quite ef­fec­tive. To learn more about pho­bias and how they can be over­come, I asked Laura Pe­ters, Ad­vice and In­for­ma­tion Man­ager at the char­ity Re­think Men­tal Ill­ness.

She ex­plained that a pho­bia is more than just an or­di­nary fear. It is an over­whelm­ing, in­creased feel­ing of danger that is trig­gered by a spe­cific ob­ject, sit­u­a­tion, feel­ing or an­i­mal.

With a pho­bia, the fear is so strong that you start build­ing your life around it, chang­ing your ev­ery­day rou­tines and ac­tiv­i­ties just to avoid the trig­ger. There are dif­fer­ent types of pho­bias. Some peo­ple are pet­ri­fied at the thought of meet­ing cer­tain an­i­mals or in­sects. For oth­ers, a pho­bia cen­tres around some­thing in their sur­round­ings, like germs.

Com­mon ac­tiv­i­ties like go­ing to the den­tist can feel un­bear­able if you have a sit­u­a­tional pho­bia. Body pho­bias, such as a fear of blood, are an­other cat­e­gory.

Specif­i­cally, some of the most com­mon pho­bias are spi­ders, open or closed spa­ces, heights, pub­lic speak­ing and fly­ing. We don’t fully un­der­stand why pho­bias hap­pen, but they are of­ten linked to a fright­en­ing or stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially dur­ing child­hood.

Our en­vi­ron­ment or the peo­ple around us may also be a fac­tor. If an adult in the fam­ily al­ready has a spi­der pho­bia, a child in that house­hold may grow up to fear spi­ders, too.

The ef­fects on your daily life de­pend on what you fear and how bad the pho­bia makes you feel. Some pho­bias don’t cause much dis­rup­tion, while oth­ers are so ex­treme that it’s a strug­gle to step out­side the front door.

The good news is most pho­bias can be cured. If you are find­ing a pho­bia hard to live with, the first step is to talk to your GP, who can re­fer you to a ther­a­pist if needed.

Ex­po­sure ther­apy, which means slowly build­ing up your tol­er­ance of the thing you fear, is a com­mon treat­ment. Some peo­ple can do this on their own, but al­ways check with a doc­tor first.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy (CBT), which helps you change the way you think about and re­act to emo­tions or events. This is used mainly for more se­vere or com­plex cases.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, med­i­ca­tion can help with anx­i­ety in the short term, although it’s not a per­ma­nent an­swer.

In ad­di­tion to talk­ing with your GP, you can learn more about pho­bias on the NHS Choices web­site at www.nhs. uk, or on the Re­think Men­tal Ill­ness web­site at www.re­think.org, where you will also find de­tails of the char­ity’s ad­vice lines and sup­port ser­vices. ■

Most pho­bias can be cured

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