A phobia is a persistent fear of an object or situation. Individuals affected will try to avoid at all costs the object of fear, although it might not pose an actual danger. The fear is said to be irrational. If the source of the phobia cannot be avoided, the individual will persist with the object or situation with severe distress and a marked effect on daily activities. In order to be classified as a phobia, the individual has to have made contact with the object or situation of fear. For example, one cannot be diagnosed with a phobia of snakes if an encounter with snakes has never occurred.

The symptoms of phobias include:

  • Feelings of unsteadiness, dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
  • Feelings of choking
  • Rapid heartbeat, palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or a smothering sensation
  • Nausea or stomach distress
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Trembling or shaking


Other symptoms might include feelings of being detached from own body, fear of fainting, fear of not being in control, fear of dying and hot or cold flushes.

Phobias can be simple or complex. A simple phobia is something we all have heard of such as a fear of dogs, spiders, mice, snakes, enclosed spaces or dentists. Reactions to simple phobias range from mild to severe anxiety and in certain cases it could include a severe panic attack.

Complex phobias tend to be a deep-seated fear of a particular situation. They include agoraphobia and social phobia. Agoraphobia is an intense anxiety regarding open or public spaces. They can be debilitating leaving one unable to leave the house. Agoraphobia arises as a result of the individual having suffered from recurring panic attacks in the past. It leaves the individual fearing to leave the house in case they will be hit by a bout of panic attacks again and there will be no one around to help.

Social phobia is a fear arising when one is found in a social situation such as at a wedding or when performing in social situations. The phobia arises from fear of embarrassing or humiliating oneself in public. It is more severe than the mild anxiety we all experience when in a social situation.

The prevalence rate of phobias is high. They are the most common type of anxiety disorder. It can affect anyone regardless of age, gender and social background. Simple phobias start earlier in life and usually disappear on their own. Most complex phobias start later in life and can be more troublesome.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most effective psychotherapy in treating phobias. It provides the individual with tailored, realistic and achievable goals that the individual can aim for in order to overcome their condition.

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