I am totally and utterly afraid of heights; like I get dizzy when I go up a very long flight of stairs. The thought of me falling and dying gives me the chills. So it’s safe to say that I have a phobia of heights! Did you know that phobias are categorized as a type of anxiety disorder? Well, they are!
There was a time we went for a hike at Hell’s Gate in Naivasha. It was all fun and games until we had to go down a hiking trail that I thought I’d die. I froze, my lips got dry, my heart raced and I couldn’t say jack because I was trying to keep a straight face. I barely managed and even had thoughts of going back to the car and wait for the rest. We continued and then came upon a place where we had to climb the rocks with ropes, I never even attempted. I was too scared to. On the last leg, we had to go up what seemed to me like a mountain and I had the hardest time. I was sweating, panicking and my heart raced at 759 beats per minute. I avoided looking down as I for sure knew I was just about to die. It was no joke!
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear about a situation, living creature, place, or object. These phobias usually affect normal life as an individual will try to avoid these situations in whichever way possible. They are usually exaggerated and irrational.
Doctors are yet to ascertain the reason why phobias come about but they attribute it to biological differences in the brain triggered by experiences and situations, and negative environmental factors that an individual may experience. For example, if a parent encourages a child to run when they see a snake, then the child will group knowing that a snake is dangerous and in some, the fear of snakes will set in.
When a phobia affects the quality of life of an individual, then they are deemed as serious and not just simple fears. You will know that phobias are serious when;
- An individual is unable to control their fear reaction when faced with the situation
- An individual sweats, has chest pains, a racing heart, pins and needles, trembling, chocking sensations, runs away etc.
- They have uncontrollable anxiety
- Individuals acknowledge that their fears are irrational and unreasonable but still have the inability to control it.
There are 3 types of phobias;
- Specific phobias; where the individual has an extreme and irrational fear of a specific thing e.g. reptiles, water bodies etc. These phobias do not affect day to day lives as an individual rarely comes into contact with them.
- Social phobia/anxiety; where an individual has a profound fear of being publicly humiliated or shamed. They avoid large public gatherings and are not comfortable being around people. Social phobia should not be confused with being shy.
- Agoraphobia; where the individual has a fear of places or situations that trigger fear or helplessness. E.g. the fear of being in a lift, or the fear of leaving the house.
Both social and agoraphobias are categorized as complex fears. These usually affect a person’s wellbeing than specific phobias and will require therapy or medication in extreme cases.
Types of phobias
There are very many types of phobias ranging from understandable to weird. There is no specific listing of phobias as specialists deal with them as they come up. It is constantly growing. Some phobias include but definitely not limited to;
- Aichmophobia, fear of needles or pointed objects
- Achluophobia, fear of darkness
- Acrophobia, fear of heights
- Arachnophobia, fear of spiders
- Claustrophobia, fear of confined or crowded spaces
- Hydrophobia, fear of water
- Ophidiophobia, fear of snakes
- Zoophobia, fear of animals
- Onomatophobia, fear of names
- Arithmophobia, fear of numbers
- Gamophobia, fear of marriage
- Pogonophobia, fear of beards
- Cryophobia, fear of ice or cold
- Alektorophobia, fear of chickens
The best treatment of phobias is usually exposure therapy where one works with a qualified mental health professional to work through the specific object or situation. It involves slowly being exposed to the trigger. For example, if you have a fear of dogs, the therapist will first ask you to think about dogs. Then, they may show you pictures, and then videos, then you can look at them from a far. Eventually, after many sessions, you will be exposed to a real dog. During this time, your doctor will help you get used to the idea of dogs and teach you relaxation skills.
Phobias are extreme and uncomfortable. They are irrational and exaggerated but the person in question does not have the ability to control themselves. Treatment in extreme cases is required and a person should not be shunned, shamed or made to feel bad because of their phobia. Love, embrace and help them get through it instead.