Fear is a rational response to potentially dangerous situations.
When fear becomes irrational, extreme and begins to control certain aspects of a person’s life, however, that fear has become a phobia. In Australia, phobias are surprisingly common, affecting about 10 to 20 per cent of the population during their lifetime.
People may have specific phobias to any number of things they encounter. Some have a phobia of flying, while others have a phobia of cats. Often phobias are out of proportion to the actual threat or they may be irrational due to a lack of any threat. For some, an image on a screen is enough to induce fear, while for others the mere thought of a phobia can induce feelings of fear. People suffering from phobias know that their fear is irrational or exaggerated but are unable to control their reaction none-the-less.
The symptoms of a phobia are:
- Feelings of fear, terror or panic
- Panic attacks
- Heart palpation or chest pain
- Faintness or dizziness
- Choking or dry throat
- Hot or cold flushes
Some of the most common phobias include:
- Fear of certain environments – agoraphobia
- Fear of flying
- Fear of social situations – social phobia
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of heights
- Fear of the dentist
- Fear of animals such as spiders or snakes
- Fear of enclosed spaces or being trapped – claustrophobia
- Fear of blood or injury
- Fear of water
- Fear of vomiting
Treatment is possible and a psychologist can help you control your phobia using a range of techniques. These include cognitive behavioural therapy, graded exposure therapy, relaxation techniques and sometimes hypnotherapy.