A phobia is when you experience intense levels of anxiety as a result of exposure to a certain situation or object. The object or situation doesn’t have to be life threatening or compromise your integrity – anyone could develop a phobia of anything. Sometimes, a phobia can be so severe that even thinking of the feared thing can result in intense anxiety both physically (e.g. sweating, shaking, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate, rapid breathing) and psychologically (e.g. distressing thoughts and images).
Whilst almost everyone has something that they are fearful of, it tends to only require support when it is having a significant impact on your ability to live your day to day life. For example, seeing a spider may make you jump or even scream, but beyond that moment you do not think too much about them. However, if you started to spend lots of time checking your house for spiders or avoiding walking or sitting on the grass through fear of coming into contact with one, you may want to seek some help.
A phobia can occur as a result of a traumatic incident (or a series of incidents); for example, being bitten by a dog may then leave someone very scared of all dogs. It may also be a learned response, for example seeing a parent respond in a fearful way to an object or situation. However, for many people, they cannot pinpoint a certain event or trigger for their phobia developing, and there is even some evidence to suggest that genetics can play a part in why someone is more likely to develop a phobia.
The important things to look out for are:
- If the fear is out of proportion to the reality of the danger
- If you make significant changes and adjustments to your life to avoid coming into contact with the feared object or situation
- If this has an impact on your quality of life