The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

As humans, we’ve developed a number of emotions since the beginning of time that serve to keep us safe. One of the most prominent and instinctual emotions we have is fear. Fear helps warn us when there’s a potential threat and protects us when we’re in the face of danger. While fear plays a crucial role in our survival, it can also be detrimental to our well-being when taken to the extremes.

While everyone gets scared from time to time, some people have what are called phobias, which may cause them to change their lives in drastic ways to stay away from whatever they’re fearful of. In this article, we’ll discuss what defines a phobia, what can cause one, common types of phobias, and how you can overcome them.

What Is A Phobia?

A phobia is an intense, persistent fear of a certain object, situation, person, activity, or animal—classifying it as a type of anxiety disorder. It’s more than simply being afraid, as this fear may cause so much distress in an individual’s life that they go to great lengths to avoid whatever they’re afraid of. Phobias typically create high levels of anxiety and panic, reinforcing the negative response to the feared person, place, or thing.

Some phobias have more of an impact on a person’s life than others. For example, if someone is afraid of clowns, they can often prevent themselves from becoming overwhelmed by avoiding places with clowns, such as the fair. If, however, they’re fearful of something like interacting with other people, they may not be able to carry out their everyday activities. Something like answering the door or going to the grocery store could be too triggering, causing them to disengage with various aspects of their life.

Certain people may need professional support to overcome the impact of a phobia on their lives. Others might be able to manage their fears by themselves over time. In general, if a phobia is causing so much distress that it’s impacting daily functioning, it likely needs to be addressed with a professional.

Causes Of Phobias

Some phobias can be traced back to a specific situation, while others may appear more random or unexpected. There may not always be one specific cause of an individual’s phobia, as different elements can factor into its development. Here are some of the potential causes that researchers believe may lead to phobias:

● Adverse childhood experiences: Going through something as a kid, like being bitten by a dog, stung by a bee, or getting stuck in a slide can create a fear that never really goes away. While most childhood fears naturally subside over time, when something specific and scary happens to a child, they may not be able to look past the experience. This can cause them to develop a phobia of whatever hurt or scared them, whether it was a dog, a bee, or a small, enclosed space.

● Traumatic situations: When children or adults experience something traumatic, it can have lasting effects on their lives, leading them to develop a phobia, among other conditions and concerns. For example, an individual may develop a phobia of driving after losing a loved one in a serious accident.

● Individual responses to fear: Some people are more affected by fear than others, for various reasons. Many people have developed strong coping skills that keep them calm even in the face of danger. Individuals who have a harder time staying grounded in emotionally intense situations may find that they’re more susceptible to developing a phobia.

● Learned responses from childhood: If a child grows up in an environment where something is intensely feared, they may start to subconsciously develop a phobia of that same person, situation, or object. Seeing the adults in their lives responding with distress and intense fear can teach them that they should react that way too when faced with the same thing.

● Hereditary factors: Research has shown that phobias have a strong genetic factor. Those who have a family member with a phobia may be at an increased risk of also developing one, particularly if they have other risk factors such as traumatic experiences or limited coping strategies.

● Heightened stress for long periods: Experiencing high levels of stress over a length of time can weaken an individual’s ability to cope with life’s stressors, increasing their risk of developing a phobia.

Phobias are likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors as well as learned behaviors. However, every case is unique and should be approached as such.

Types Of Phobias

People can be afraid of anything. While these fears may seem irrational or even silly, to the person experiencing them, they’re both real and terrifying. Below are some of the most common types of phobias, as well as some that are rare:

● Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
● Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
● Necrophobia: Fear of death or dead things
● Coulrophobia: Fear of clowns
● Hemophobia: Fear of blood
● Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
● Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking
● Zoophobia: Fear of animals
● Verminophobia: Fear of germs
● Acrophobia: Fear of heights
● Trypanophobia: Fear of needles
● Claustrophobia: Fear of small spaces
● Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders

The phobias people can have would create an endless list, but each one can be just as debilitating as the next depending on the individual’s ability to cope and find support.

Finding Relief From Phobias

Phobias may be difficult to handle, but they can be overcome with the right tools, support, and treatment. Below are some common techniques used to help people find relief:

● Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a therapeutic approach that involves gradually exposing an individual to the object or situation they fear. For example, someone who is afraid of public speaking may start to conquer their fear by picturing themselves saying a speech in front of a friend. Then, they may say a speech out loud in their room. Next, they may be directed to say the same speech in front of a friend, then their family, followed by their classroom of peers, and ending with a speech in front of the entire school. The goal of exposure therapy is to get the individual to have less of a fearful, anxious response to their phobia over time. Slow, regular exposure can eventually diminish their anxiety and allow them to manage or even overcome the phobia.

● Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice that requires an individual to stay in the present moment, observing their thoughts without judgment or interpretation. It is often achieved through self-awareness, intentional breathing exercises, certain repetitive phrases, and practices like meditation. Mindfulness can be useful for managing phobias as it can help people recognize which of their thoughts are unhelpful (such as thoughts about their fear) and allow them to retrain their brains to choose more constructive thinking patterns.

● Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is another therapeutic approach that can be instrumental in alleviating the stress response associated with phobias. CBT works by teaching individuals how to identify their distorted or irrational thought patterns and replace them with healthier, more logical thoughts. When used in conjunction with exposure therapy, CBT can be a powerful tool for reducing the stress and fear surrounding the source of the phobia.

Everyone responds to treatment differently, with some people finding certain techniques more effective than others. Working with a professional, such as a therapist, can be essential for developing a personalized treatment plan that considers the individual’s unique situation and needs.

Living A Life Free From The Grip Of Fear

Phobias come in all shapes and sizes, affecting people to varying degrees. While they may be challenging to live with, there are options for managing and overcoming them. You don’t have to be controlled by your fears forever. By reaching out for help, you can take the first step toward healing and recovery.

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