A phobia is a fear or anxiety relating to a particular situation, object, event or feeling. These are known as triggers. You may react by going out of your way to avoid these triggers, as coming in to contact with them can cause anxiety and panic symptoms.
What is it?
There are different types of phobias. Simple phobias are relatively common and are often linked to specific objects or events, for example; spiders, snakes, heights or flying.
Social phobias or social anxieties relate to situations where there is some social interaction, social event or simply being around others. You may fear speaking to others, fear being humiliated or embarrassed, judged or criticised. For more information visit the social anxiety section on the app.
Agoraphobia is often described as a fear of open spaces. However it is more than that. You may fear being somewhere where you feel trapped, fear being alone or fear being in large spaces such as supermarkets or shopping centres. It is common for people to become anxious about travelling on public transport or being anywhere amongst others where they feel they cannot escape. Some people feel unable to leave the house because of the fears.
What causes them?
Phobias can occur due to several reasons. As we are growing up we may start to become anxious about something because of the way that those around us react. For example if a parent or sibling is anxious about going on buses, we may learn from this travelling on buses is scary and we then begin to avoid them.
They can be linked to a particular incident or trauma in life. For example if someone is trapped in a lift they may fear going in lifts in later life.
We also know that we inherit different levels of anxiety and so some of us are more likely to respond in an anxious way than others.
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How can I help myself?
How to manage phobias
The effect the phobia has on your life will depend on how often you come into contact with the feared object/event and how you deal with it.
Avoidance is a common reaction. Whilst this might reduce the anxiety we experience in the short-term, constantly avoiding the trigger will cause the phobia to become stronger over time. As a consequence the enjoyment and quality of life reduces as we end up avoiding more and more situations.
There are several approaches you can take to manage your phobia and reduce the effect it has on your day-to-day life.
Gradual and repeated contact with the feared object/event in small steps – known as desensitisation – is one way to reduce your anxiety over time.
Learning relaxation exercises can bring down your level of anxiety and is a useful technique to practice to help you face the fears.
Challenging negative thoughts about how well you might cope, what might happen for example, can again help reduce the anxiety.