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Overcome your fears this Halloween: The difference between fears and phobias, and how to overcome them.

An estimated 10 million of us here in the UK have a phobia. A phobia is more than feeling fearful. It causes significant anxiety or panic and can massively impact how an individual behaves and what lengths they may go to in order to avoid their phobia. 

The word phobia comes from the Greek word ‘phobos’ which means fear. It’s used to describe a condition in which someone’s fear goes beyond the usual emotional response. 

The difference between a fear and a phobia

Fear is an emotion linked to perceived or real threat. A fear becomes a phobia when it impacts your quality of life. You may go to significant lengths to avoid your fear, or the level of fear becomes so great it can be debilitating. 

Phobias are an anxiety disorder. The brain and body interpret a situation to be an extremely real and harmful threat to an individual when, in reality, the situation may represent a very mild threat or indeed no threat at all. An individual may feel intense anxiety and the psychological / physical ramifications of this, rather than a usual feeling of fear. 

What are phobias?

Simple phobias are fears about specific things such as dogs, clowns, enclosed spaces etc. Complex phobias can be more overarching and difficult to pinpoint or avoid. For example, someone with a social phobia may be fearful of social situations, but the reason for this phobia can vary from person to person. One may be fearful of humiliating themselves in public, while another may be frightened of the unpredictable nature of others around them. 

What causes phobias? 

Phobias can be caused by many different things. They can be kick started by a traumatic event, learned or passed down genetically. 

Let’s take fear of flying as an example. 

A person may develop a phobia of flying if they personally had a traumatic experience whilst on a plane. This has not only put them off flying for life – simply the thought of flying again causes extreme trauma and distress. 

A different person may never have experienced difficulty flying – or have even flown at all. Simply hearing their loved ones vow never to fly again, or witnessing someone close to them being frightened of flying could trigger a phobia. This individual has learnt that flying is something to be afraid of. 

Genes are sometimes involved in the development of anxiety disorders, and therefore phobias. This is perhaps one reason why one individual may be slightly nervous of flying, but another would develop an extreme phobia. 

How severe can a phobic reaction be?

People with phobias may experience mild anxiety or a full blown panic attack. Feeling sick, faint or finding it difficult to breathe are amongst a wide variety of symptoms

It’s key to remember that there are two main types of phobic reaction: psychological, and physical. The two are often combined. An individual may feel an intense emotional response of fear and unease, or they may physically react by crying, shaking or experiencing increased heart rate. 

Common phobias

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), Trypanophobia (fear of injections), Acrophobia (fear of heights) and Nyctophobia (fear of the dark) are some of the more common phobias. 

Most of us wouldn’t like a creepy crawly sneaking up our arm, and not many people are huge fans of injections. However, the majority of people are able to cope with these fears. Those with phobias will go out of their way to avoid their fear, to a point where it really starts to affect them. 

Treating a phobia

Those with a severe phobia may find speaking to a GP helpful. Talking therapies, desensitisation and medication are amongst the main types of treatment. 

A professional will help someone with a phobia to get to the root cause of their fears, what triggers them and how they can cope in the future using tools and techniques. 

Self help is also effective for milder phobias. This phobia self help guide is particularly informative. It helps people to better understand their phobia and 

Some people also find making key lifestyle changes helpful. This includes ensuring regularity throughout the day – regular sleeping patterns, regular exercise, consistent meal times of good nutritional value. This will help to minimise the impact of panic attacks and provide key points of focus throughout the day. 

Enjoying mindfulness, visualisation and other relaxation techniques are other powerful ways to reduce the impact of phobic responses. Exercises that help an individual to control their breathing and to relax can be invaluable. 

Others also find joining a self help group can limit the impact of phobias. Talking about our problems with others and discussing shared experiences can help people to explore new ways of coping. The support and help of others is always extremely powerful. 

Speak to the experts

Our Wellbeing Coaches can help you to deal with a wide variety of physical and mental issues. For further advice and information please get in touch

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