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A phobia is an uncontrollable, irrational, and persistent fear of a certain object, situation, or activity. This fear can be so overwhelming that a person may go to great lengths to avoid the source of this fear. One extreme response can be a panic attack. This is a sudden, intense fear that lasts for several minutes. It happens when there is no real danger.
About 19 million Americans have 1 or more phobias that range from mild to severe. Phobias can happen in early childhood. But they are often first seen between ages 15 and 20. They affect both men and women equally. But men are more likely to seek treatment for phobias.
Research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the start of phobias. Certain phobias have been linked to a very bad first encounter with the feared object or situation. Mental health experts don’t know if this first encounter is necessary or if phobias can simply occur in people who are likely to have them.
What is specific phobia?Specific phobia is characterized by extreme fear of an object or situation that is not harmful under general conditions.
Examples may include a fear of the following:
Flying (fearing the plane will crash)
Dogs (fearing the dog will bite or attack)
Closed-in places (fear of being trapped)
Tunnels (fearing a collapse)
Heights (fear of falling)
What are the characteristics of specific phobia?People with specific phobias know that their fear is excessive, but are unable to overcome their emotion. The disorder is diagnosed only when the specific fear interferes with daily activities of school, work, or home life.Approximately 5% to 16% of American adults of all ages in a given year have some type of specific phobia. There is no known cause, although they seem to run in families and are found slightly more often in women. If the object of the fear is easy to avoid, people with phobias may not feel the need to seek treatment. Sometimes, however, they may make important career or personal decisions to avoid a situation that includes the source of the phobia.Treatment for specific phobiaThere is currently no proven drug treatment for specific phobias. In some cases, certain medicines may be prescribed to help reduce anxiety symptoms before someone faces a phobic situation.When phobias interfere with a person's life, treatment can help, and usually involves a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy called desensitization or exposure therapy. In this, patients are gradually exposed to what frightens them until the fear begins to fade. Relaxation and breathing exercises also help to reduce anxiety symptoms.
What is social phobia?Social phobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person has significant anxiety and discomfort related to a fear of being embarrassed, humiliated, or scorned by others in social or performance situations. Even when they manage to confront this fear, people with social phobia usually:
Feel very anxious before the event or outing
Feel intensely uncomfortable throughout the event or outing
Have lingering unpleasant feelings after the event or outing
Social phobia often happens with the following:
Dealing with authority figures
Eating in public
Using public restrooms
What are the characteristics of social phobia?Although this disorder is often thought of as shyness, the 2 are not the same. Shy people can be very uneasy around others, but they do not experience the extreme anxiety in anticipating a social situation. Also, they do not necessarily avoid circumstances that make them feel self-conscious. In contrast, people with social phobia are not necessarily shy at all, but can be completely at ease with some people most of the time.
Most people experiencing social phobia will try to avoid situations that provoke dread or otherwise cause them much distress.
Diagnosing social phobiaSocial phobia is diagnosed when the fear or avoidance significantly interferes with normal, expected routines, or is excessively upsetting.
Social phobia disrupts normal life, interfering with career or social relationships. It often runs in families and may be accompanied by depression or alcoholism. Social phobia often begins around early adolescence or even younger. Approximately 7% of American adults ages 18 to 54 experience social phobia in a given year.Treatment for social phobiaPeople who suffer from social phobia often find relief from their symptoms when treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, or medicine, or a combination of both.
What is agoraphobia?Agoraphobia is a Greek word that literally means "fear of the marketplace." This anxiety disorder involves the fear of experiencing a panic attack in a place or situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing.
The anxiety associated with agoraphobia is so severe that panic attacks are not unusual. Individuals with agoraphobia typically try to avoid the location or cause of their fear. Agoraphobia involves fear of situations like the following:
Being alone outside his or her home
Being at home alone
Being in a crowd
Traveling in a vehicle
Being in an elevator or on a bridge
People with agoraphobia typically avoid crowded places like streets, crowded stores, churches, and theaters.
What are the characteristics of agoraphobia?Most people with agoraphobia develop the disorder after first suffering a series of 1 or more panic attacks. The attacks happen randomly and without warning, and make it impossible for a person to predict what situations will trigger the reaction. This unpredictability of the panic causes the person to anticipate future panic attacks and, eventually, fear any situation in which an attack may happen. As a result, they avoid going into any place or situation where previous panic attacks have happened.
People with the disorder often become so disabled that they literally feel they cannot leave their homes. Others who have agoraphobia, do go into potentially "phobic" situations, but only with great distress, or when accompanied by a trusted friend or family member.
People with agoraphobia may also develop depression, fatigue, tension, alcohol or drug abuse problems, and obsessive disorders, making seeking treatment crucial. Approximately 1.7% of American adults experience agoraphobia in a given year.
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