Fears and phobias are surprisingly common, with over a million people in the UK having their quality of life affected. A phobia is defined as being an intense fear of an object or situation which is irrational. It’s rational to fear things that can kill or severely damage us. However terrifying sharks, snakes or precipices might be, the fear of them is rational – they really can harm us. Those fears aren’t classified as being a phobia. Often fears and phobias occur because of a negative or unpleasant experience but it’s also possible for them to be learned.
I’m often asked ‘what is the worst phobia’? My view is that there is no such thing as a ‘worst phobia’ because it’s the severity of the fear that causes the problems, not the object of the fear. When fears and phobias become severe they can generalise and spread to other situations or objects.
How do phobias develop?
It’s not known exactly how phobias develop. Often they have their roots in childhood, starting between the ages of 4 and 8. An example of this is a child falling ill and having to go to the hospital. At the hospital they are given lots of injections and blood tests. They are scared, traumatised and develop a phobia of needles. As a teenager they become frightened of having their blood pressure taken. This could eventually develop into a fear of medical professionals and they refuse to visit the GP when they are sick. Other phobias such as social phobia or agoraphobia tend to develop later in life, around puberty.
Phobias are classed as anxiety disorders; according to Psychology Today they are the most common type of anxiety experienced. As with other anxiety disorders there appears to be a genetic component in the development of phobias, as well as experiences.
Sometimes just the thought that something might occur, or might be nearby is enough to trigger an intense fear reaction in someone with a phobia.
How to get better.
Most of us are afraid of something, so it can be tricky to work out when it’s time to seek outside help. As with most mental health issues, early intervention leads to best outcomes. A good rule of thumb is, that if the fear affects your everyday enjoyment of life or stops you from doing things that you enjoy, it’s time to seek help.
There are many things that you can do yourself to overcome fears and phobias. This includes gradually exposing yourself to whatever the object of your phobia is. Start small, perhaps with a cartoon or a photograph and sit with it for a while. Notice that your fear subsides as you stay in the situation. As you get more comfortable you can introduce more challenging or fear provoking objects until you’re fully comfortable. The NHS recommends a computer-based program called FearFighter. The program uses Cognitive Behavioural approaches to help you work through our fears and requires a medical referral.
Conquer your fears and phobias.
Because phobias usually begin in childhood, rational approaches including CBT to remove them can be ineffective. Often phobias can be treated in just one session with hypnotherapy. There are different types of hypnotherapy and hypnosis can be used in conjunction with other therapies to boost the effectiveness of the treatment.
Earlier this year I worked with a client who had a severe phobia of hospitals. They developed it after a terrifying experience of being held down by doctors as a child. In the past their phobia had been so severe that they fainted as they simply walked into the hospital! Working together we constructed a plan for them to overcome this fear. Included in it were a variety of tools to help them remain calm and confident in hospitals and during procedures. By teaching them self-hypnosis techniques they were able to stay calm and confident in times of emotional stress. Last I heard they had just had a minor procedure and sailed through it without a care!