Phobias are fairly common; it is estimated that around 10 percent of adults have a phobia. Phobias are irrational fears, which often cause people to experience extreme anxiety and physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, sweating and the sensation of having ‘butterflies in your tummy’. Phobias often cause people to get very upset when they are exposed to something, which to most people is completely harmless. The five most common phobias include:
- Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders. These eight-legged creatures are usually completely harmless, but many people have an intense fear of them, which can send them into a panic even if they are just looking at a picture of a spider or there is a tiny spider in the next room.
- Aerophobia (also known as aviophobia) Aerophobia is a fear of flying. This common phobia affects people when they travel by air and most people feel most anxious when the plane is taking off or landing. Aerophobia often stems from claustrophobia.
- Claustrophobia is a fear of closed or confined spaces; many people experience anxiety when they use small toilet cubicles or elevators, for example. Claustrophobia can cause people to become very anxious and this may result in a panic attack.
- Agoraphobia is the opposite of claustrophobia; it is a phobia of pen spaces. Agoraphobia can be so severe that it prevents people from leaving their homes for long periods of time.
- Acrophobia is a fear of heights. Many people feel very anxious and nauseated when they are high up, whether they are climbing a ladder, they are at the top of the building or they are using glass stairs. A fear of heights is often associated with a fear of falling.
What treatments are available for phobias? Psychological treatments are beneficial for many people with phobias; the aim is often to ascertain why people have a specific phobia and to train them to think of that particular phobia in a different way so that the brain is able to rationalize the situation.
Counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy can all be beneficial and hypnotherapy has been found to be effective for some people. In some cases, desensitization is used to treat phobias; this means exposing the individual to the object, animal or scenario and increasing exposure gradually over a period of time so that the individual gets used to it and starts to understand that there is no need to be afraid or anxious.