Does anything in your life make your heart beat so fast it feels like it's going to explode? Does just the thought of facing a particular event have the power to make your palms sweat, your throat close, your head swim? Is there a recurring situation in your life that for no logical reason makes you feel beyond scared? If the answer is yes, you might suffer from a common mental disorder among women: fears and phobias.
Fears and phobias take a dislike (tall buildings, small spaces, bridges, flying, dentists) and ramps up the terror and panic to incredible proportions. No amount of reason (there's a fence around it, it doesn't bite, it won't hurt) can alleviate the discomfort that fears and phobias can put on you. The culprit is believed to be a mix of genes and certain kinds of life experiences. Unfortunately the feeling can't be overcome with willpower. And ignoring the symptoms won't help the fears and phobias go away.
Here are some of the facts about fears and phobias that are said to affect one in 10 of us.
Although no one knows what causes them, fears and phobias tend to run in families and are more common in women. They begin suddenly and can last a lifetime.
Fears and phobias fall into three broad categories: social phobias where you feel paralyzing fear in social situations, panic disorders where overwhelming fear hits for no apparent reason, and specific phobias where you know exactly what it is that triggers your anxiety. The fear of being watched, criticized or humiliated while doing something in front of other people is called social phobia or social anxiety disorder. It's a form of stage fright in real life, like shyness times infinity. It is usually very successfully treated with antidepressants. Specific fears and phobias are the easiest to deal with. They respond amazingly well to intensive exposure therapy with trained psychologists.
A new treatment for phobia suffers uses virtual reality to introduce the feared activity in small doses. It simulates the thing the phobic fears most, stripping it of its power to terrorize. More and more people are overcoming their fears, sweating, screaming and trembling in the comfort of their own home!
For all fears and phobias we creative humans have come up with, a word has been coined to describe it. There are more than 500 identified fears and phobias and the list grows longer every day. A few of the more exotic and quirky fears and phobias are...
- eisoptrophobia—fear of mirrors
- hemophobia—fear of blood
- nephophobia—fear of clouds
- apaphobia—fear of bees
- xanthophobia—fear of yellow
- coulrophobia—fear of clowns
- alektorophobia—fear of chickens
- lutraphobia—fear of otters
A few of the more common fears—acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and agoraphobia (a paralyzing terror of anything outside the safety of home)—can be serious and debilitating. While the more specific fears can be avoided, leaving you able to lead a normal life, these can be more difficult to work around.
Forty-percent of people who suffer from a specific phobia have at least one phobic parent.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been very successful in treating many different fears and phobias, oftentimes taking no more than a dozen sessions. Group therapy has also proven to work, especially with social phobias.
The fact that fears and phobias can be overcome so easily is one of science's brightest advances. To be able to expose the "neurochemical lie" that's been ruining your life is wonderful news for thousands of sufferers. If you or someone you know is phobic, don't doom yourself to a life filled with fear. Take advantage of the wonderful new treatment options available.