Phobias are a mental condition characterized by appearance of excessive irrational, baseless fear for an object or situation. It is quite normal if people feel anxiety before an examination, interview or any public speech. However, in a phobia the patient suffers from intense anxiety along with severe physical and psychological symptoms to such an extent that the personal, social and daily life of the person may be disrupted. Most phobia are treatable but it takes extensive psychotherapy and sometimes the use of drugs.
Phobias can be of various types – people may be afraid of large open space, confined space, flying or using elevators, height or even specific people or social situations. It is not just about fear but rather an excessive fear that drives a person to act in an irrational manner when faced with the situation. The exact cause is not known, however, a past traumatic experience or changes in brain chemicals may be responsible.
Phobia may lead to social isolation, depression, or even substance abuse.
The symptoms usually depend upon the type of phobia.
- Specific phobia. When the affected person complain of fear related to a specific object or situation like fear of enclosed space (claustrophobia), fear of open space ( agoraphobia), fear of flying (aviophobia), fear of water (hydrophobia), fear of animals (zoophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia) and so on. People may also complain of other type of specific phobias like fear of injection, entering a dark room or tunnel or traveling in public transport.
- Social phobia is more that just shyness or anxiety associated before giving public speeches or interviews. The person become irrationally over-apprehensive regarding public scrutiny or negative evaluation by others. The condition may become so severe that the patient may have apathy even with eating in a public place. Social phobia can be generalized or specific. Generalized social phobia may occur in any social situation whereas in specific social phobia anxiety is triggered in specific situation like inability or difficulty in urinating in public toilets.
In some people there may be only increased anxiety when exposed to the object or situation whereas in other patients there are associated physical symptoms like :
- Increased perspiration
- Chest pain
- Inability to talk
- Shortness of breathing
- Feeling of impending doom (panic attack)
- Irrational behavior
In many cases the sufferer is able to realize that his or her fear is irrational butis powerless to control the symptoms. Phobias may have a negative impact on day-to-day activities and social or personal life of the person leading to depression, frustration, social isolation, increased risk of illicit substance abuse and even suicidal tendency.
Although the exact cause is not known, there may be a link between phobia of parents and children. Past traumatic experiences like natural disasters, war, road traffic accidents, physical or mental abuse and rape may lead to development of specific types of phobias in the victim. Abnormality in the chemicals of the brain or genetic make up of the person may also have some role to play in the development of phobias. Often the cause cannot be traced as the patient may not recall the exact event that precipitated the development of the specific phobia.
Usually social phobia develops early in the life before 25 years of and specific phobia may develop as early as 5 years. Both the genders are at risk of suffering from phobias. Family history and past traumatic experiences increases the risk of phobia.
Treatment options include prescription of drugs like beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication and sedatives. Behavioral therapy including counseling and desensitization by repeated exposure to the situation that triggers phobia. This should be done by a mental health professional.