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Phobias

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that cause people to experience excessive and irrational fears that interfere with daily living. Phobias can center on places, situations, or objects.

Almost everybody has something that causes uneasiness—getting on an elevator, seeing a spider, looking down from high places—but most people can manage those fears and get on with their lives.

People who have phobias, however, will go to great lengths to avoid the situations, things, and places that trigger their irrational fears. They may understand there is no real danger, but they feel powerless to rein in their terror.

Having a phobia can get in the way of your daily routines, impact your ability to perform your best at work, create strain in your relationships, and damage your confidence and self-esteem. You don’t have to live with this constant fear.

WHO’S AT RISK OF PHOBIAS?

In the U.S., approximately about 19 million people—8.7% of the adult population—are affected by specific phobias. And it is estimated that 7-9% of children have phobias. The condition is more common in women, who are twice as likely as men to develop phobias. Symptoms typically emerge during childhood, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, age 7 is the average for the onset of the disorder.

Many factors can increase the risk of the development of phobias, including:

  • Genetics: Having a family member with an anxiety disorder or phobia puts you at heightened risk.
  • Exposure to trauma: A negative childhood experience, such as being bitten by a dog, may trigger a fear of dogs. A trauma at any age can also lead to the development of specific phobias.
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): Having a head injury makes you more vulnerable to anxiety disorders, including phobias. Experiencing head trauma during childhood can increase the risk of phobias later in life.
  • Learned responses: Parents with phobias can transfer their irrational fears to their children. If a parent expresses excessive fear about flying, their child may pick up on that example and also develop a fear of flying.
  • Exposure to toxins or infections: Some toxins (such as toxic mold) or chronic infections (such as Lyme disease) raise the risk of anxiety disorders, including phobias.

TYPES OF PHOBIAS

Mental health professionals recognize 3 types of phobias:

  • Social Phobias: Social phobias (also known as social anxiety disorder) are the most common type of phobia, affecting about 15 million adults in the U.S. Social phobias involve extreme self-consciousness in social situations and worry that others are watching and judging them. This can make it hard to engage in everyday activities and to make friends and maintain relationships.
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of being overwhelmed by anxiety in specific places, situations, or spaces is the hallmark of agoraphobia. Things like being in a crowd of people, going to the movies, being in an elevator, being in an open parking lot, being on a bus or train, or standing in line may trigger the distressing feelings. People with agoraphobia are typically fearful of being trapped with no way to escape from the anxiety they feel in these places or situations. For some people with agoraphobia, they end up refusing to leave home due to their fears.
  • Specific Phobias: Specific phobias involve an intense and unfounded fear of a specific trigger, which can be a place, a situation, or an object. People can have more than 1 specific phobia. The number of specific phobias adds up to over 500, but they tend to fall into 5 categories: fear of animals, fear of the natural environment, fear of medical procedures, fear of specific situations, and other fears.

Here are some of the most common specific phobias:

  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
  • Aviophobia: Fear of flying
  • Coulraphobia: Fear of clowns
  • Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
  • Dentophobia: Fear of dentists
  • Entomophobia: Fear of insects
  • Hemophobia: Fear of blood
  • Hypochondria: Fear of illness
  • Lilapsophobia: Fear of hurricanes and tornadoes
  • Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
  • Nyctophobia: Fear of the dark
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of enclosed spaces
  • Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking
  • Trypanophobia: Fear of needles

Less common phobias include:

  • Ephebiphobia: Fear of teenagers
  • Genuphobia: Fear of knees
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia: Fear of long words
  • Mageirocophobia: Fear of cooking
  • Porphyrophobia: Fear of the color purple
  • Samhainophobia: Fear of Halloween
  • Trypophobia: Fear of holes

SYMPTOMS OF PHOBIAS

Regardless of the type of phobia you have, the symptoms they produce are usually similar to a panic attack. Typical symptoms include nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, feeling faint, chills, a choking sensation, confusion, dizziness, and panic. In children, symptoms including crying and being clingy, or they may resemble a temper tantrum.

CO-OCCURRING DISORDERS

Phobias often co-exist with other mental health disorders, including:

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to calm the intense anxiety they feel in response to their phobia or to soothe the persistent worry they have about facing the thing they fear.

DIAGNOSING AND TREATING PHOBIAS

In traditional psychiatry, where diagnoses are based solely on symptom clusters, phobias can be misdiagnosed for other conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. An inaccurate diagnosis and improper treatment can exacerbate your symptoms and keep you mired in intense fear.

Part of the problem is that traditional psychiatry typically takes a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis and treatment. But the 3 types of phobias aren’t a simple or single disorder. Giving somebody with agoraphobia the same treatment as someone who is afraid of horses will never work.

Beware that traditional treatment with antianxiety medications for specific phobias can be harmful to the brain. For example, benzodiazepines suppress brain activity and can make the brain look toxic (shriveled or low in activity), and they have been found to increase the risk of dementia.

BRAIN IMAGING AND PHOBIAS

Functional brain imaging studies have found abnormal activity in several brain regions in people who have phobias. In some studies, people with irrational fears who were exposed to words related to their phobia showed increased activation in the following brain areas:

  • Prefrontal cortex—involved in focus, judgment, and decision-making
  • Insula—involved in emotions, self-awareness, and perception
  • Posterior cingulate cortex—involved in emotional salience and memory

Brain imaging studies using SPECT clearly show that anxiety disorders, such as phobias, are not a character flaw or personal weakness. They are associated with biological changes in the brain. Our brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has helped us identify 7 different brain patterns associated with anxiety disorders, including phobias. And each type requires its own treatment plan.

HOW AMEN CLINICS CAN HELP YOU OVERCOME PHOBIAS

Amen Clinics uses brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to more accurately diagnose phobias so you can get a personalized treatment plan for your needs. At Amen Clinics, we believe in using the least toxic, most effective treatments, including helpful forms of psychotherapy, simple tools to kill the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), natural supplements, nutrition, exercise, and medication (when necessary).

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https://www.amenclinics.com/conditions/phobias/