Eek…a spider! Ewwwww, gross…a snake! These are quite common sentiments about “scary” or “disgusting” triggers. But being mildly afraid of an object or situation doesn’t quite constitute a phobia. Instead—according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—an individual would need to meet the following criteria to be diagnosed with a phobia:
- Excessive fear about a specific object or situation that lasts 6 months or more and almost always provokes immediate fear or anxiety
- The object or situation is avoided or endured with intense anxiety or fear that is considered “out of proportion” with the actual danger posed
- The fear and anxiety causes clinically significant impairment (at home, at work, at school, etc.)
An individual’s level of impairment from phobias can range from mild to severe. Someone who has ophidiophobia (extreme fear of snakes) might encounter snakes rarely or never. Unless that person lives in an area that is heavily populated with snakes, the individual wouldn’t need to alter their life in order to avoid snakes. However, a person with emetophobia (extreme fear of vomit/vomiting) might be plagued every waking hour by the terror that they (or someone near them) might vomit.
Although researchers still have much to learn about phobias, they are thought to be caused by genetics, environment or both. Also, according to the DSM, a “specific phobia sometimes develops following a traumatic event (e.g., being attacked by an animal or stuck in an elevator), observation of others going through a traumatic event (e.g., watching someone drown), an unexpected panic attack in the to be feared situation (e.g., an unexpected panic attack while on the subway) or informational transmission (e.g., extensive media coverage of a plane crash).”
Common phobias include the extreme fear of:
- Confined spaces (claustrophobia)
- Spiders (arachnophobia)
- Vomiting (emetophobia)
- Flying (aerophobia)
- Animals (zoophobia)
- Heights (acrophobia)
- Blood (hemophobia)
- Needles (trypanophobia)
Fortunately, most people struggling with phobias will experience significant reduction or elimination of symptoms when engaging in proper treatment (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT). This involves a combination of learning to restructure thinking (“cognitive”) and gradual, repeated exposure (“behavioral”) to the feared object or situation. Additionally, medication such as sedatives, SSRIs or beta blockers are sometimes prescribed to help reduce anxiety associated with phobias.
If you’re struggling with a phobia or interested in treatment with a professional therapist, contact Travco Behavioral Health today at 330.286.0050!