Perhaps you’re scared of spiders and ask your parent to kill them for you, or you’re a little cautious swimming in the ocean after Shark Week, or you get tense in elevators. Are these phobias? No.
Everybody experiences fear every once in a while - it’s part of being human. But what does it mean when these fears take over your life and affect your ability to accomplish daily tasks? These are what are referred to as phobias - a term often thrown around with little understanding of the serious symptoms and effects of having one.
Specific phobia anxiety disorder is when someone has an extreme and irrational fear of something that impacts their social and/or school/work lives.
This form of anxiety, unlike generalized anxiety disorder, is triggered by thinking about or facing a specific object or situation that stimulates intense panic.
The American Psychiatric Association divides phobias in four groups:
→ Social anxiety: extreme fear of social situations which vary from public speaking to accomplishing daily tasks in front of others. Social anxiety tends to be grounded in the fear of judgement or embarrassment.
→ Specific anxiety: extreme fear of a particular object/person/animal or situation. The four subtypes of Specific anxiety are situational, animals, medical, environmental.
→ Agoraphobia: extreme fear of being trapped in an inescapable place or situation. Agoraphobia often leads to avoiding certain locations or events. In very serious cases, the person may not even leave the confines of their house.
→ if under the age of 18 then the phobias must last over 6 months
→ persistent fear brought on by something specific
→ the person is aware that the fear is irrational
→ the situation/object is avoided at all costs or the person will experience panic
→ the fear or avoidance interferes with the person's daily lives
→ the person will often feel shame and embarrassment
→ exposure to the stimuli will immediately provoke an anxiety response, often in the form of an anxiety attack or overwhelming thoughts, and thus exhibiting the additional following symptoms:
Chest pain and increased heart beat
Shaking or trembling
Shortness of breath or hyperventilating
Chills or hot flashes
Stomach pain or nausea
A lot of people downplay the severity of phobias or do not take them seriously. There is a stigma around adults or young adults having what people call “childhood” fears. If you experience this disorder or any of these common symptoms, it is important for you to know that you are not alone. There are many people like you, and there are many resources available to make the fight against your fears easier. (see below for resources)
Phobias usually first appear in adolescence or adulthood and persist beyond the usual childhood phobias. These fears do not dissipate by themselves: only 20% of adults phobias disappear without the help of therapy or other methods that will be discussed below.
→ Talk therapy: Working through the root of your phobias and slowly overcoming them over time through conversations with a therapist. This helps you understand your fear and change the way you think about it.
→ Exposure therapy: Gradual, repeated exposure to the source of your specific phobia and related thoughts, feelings, and sensations may help you learn to manage your anxiety.
→ Medication: Very rarely necessary but can be prescribed for temporary relief with anxiety. (antidepressants, tranquilisers or beta blockers)
→ Meditation: Treatment that can be done by yourself to refocus your thoughts on something beyond your fear. It is also known to change the way you think about it and help you understand the origin of the fear if there is one. Meditation and yoga both reduce general anxiety and can provide techniques for when faced with the stimuli.
→ SAM (Self-help for anxiety management) app: A useful, easy-to-use app that offers self-help methods and techniques to learn how to manage long-term anxiety or anxiety attacks.
→ What's Up Walk in : Open five days a week. No referral is needed and the sessions are free. They use a “talk therapy” approach that has been found to be successful. With a therapist you will target a priority concern and develop a plan that you feel comfortable with. Counselling sessions last between 45-60 minutes.
→ Plenty of Peer Support Groups for dealing with phobias. This gives you the chance to talk to someone who relates to your fears and is undergoing the fight against their fears too.
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I have specific phobia anxiety disorder. A few of my phobias are claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), pseudodysphagia (fear of choking), thalassophobia (fear of the ocean), and hypochondria (fear of getting a serious illness). These things have all at one point in my life held me back, but I continue to work on them everyday using various techniques, support from family and friends, art, and online resources.
If you need someone to talk to or have any questions, feel free to contact me or Sabine Gaind (your 2018/2019 Wellness Prefects).