Phobias are perceived fears that are disproportionate to actual danger. It’s possible to develop a phobia to almost any situation or thing, but the most common include:
- Social phobia – anxiety about how you are seen and judged by other people or fear of being humiliated in social situations for example when speaking or performing in public.
- Agoraphobia – fear of leaving home; going into shops, crowds and public places or travelling alone in trains, buses or planes.
- Fears attached to specific things, such as fear of heights, spiders, mice, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), needles, thunder, darkness, flying, dentistry, using public toilets, eating certain foods or the sight of blood or injury
People with a phobia will try to avoid the object or situation they fear. For example, someone with agoraphobia may find it very difficult to leave their house at all.
The symptoms of your anxiety – such as a racing heart or feeling faint – may be frightening in themselves and these are often associated with secondary fears of dying, losing control, or ‘going mad’.
You may find it useful to draw up a list of the things or situations that make you anxious. You can then imagine the least frightening while practising relaxation techniques. For example, someone with a phobia for spiders might begin by looking at a picture of a spider and finish by touching a spider, while practising relaxation techniques throughout.
With the support of a mental health professional, this graduated imaginal exposure technique usually has a very positive outcome.
Alternatively you may prefer to expose yourself directly to the feared situation with help and support from a trusted friend or therapist. For example, if you are frightened of flying you may be able to alleviate your fear by actually getting on to a plane.