Ever heard of Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia? Nope, it isn’t a typo, it is, however, the name of a phobia. Ironically, this is the diagnosis for people who have a fear of long words. Long words, dust and string are only a sample of the odd and unusual things that some individuals have a fear of. There is an extensive list of phobias ranging from ablutophobia (a fear of bathing) to zoophobia (a fear of animals).
Slight anxiety or nervousness at the thought of taking an important test or giving a speech in front of a group, being startled by a snake or spider and butterflies just before take off at the airport, these are all normal reactions to incidences. But, when the fear of a place, situation or object becomes so overwhelming that it begins to interfere with daily living, it is known as a phobia. When someone has a phobia, their anxiety can be overwhelming. Their symptoms of fear go well beyond the slight trembling or rush of adrenaline, they begin to have symptoms of a full blown panic attack. A phobia induces excessive sweating, uncontrollable trembling, tears, pain in the chest and difficulty breathing. Many individuals with a phobia, fear they are having a heart attack when they experience the panic attack resulting from their fear. Phobias produce symptoms such as the overwhelming need to do whatever necessary to avoid the fear, for example, taking a longer route to work to avoid a bridge on the shorter route.
There are hundreds of phobias, many of which may sound quite unusual but, all phobias will fall into one of three specific categories:
This goes well beyond just being shy around others, it is the overwhelming fear of the possible outcome when out in public. The individual fears possible humiliation or the possibility of being scrutinized in public. They become overwhelmed with fear that others will think negatively of them. When someone suffers with a social phobia, they avoid any and all interactions with others, including work related activities and/or family gatherings.
Agoraphobia will typically begin for someone following their experience with a severe panic attack while being outside the home. The individual has a fear that there will not be a way of escaping if they have a panic attack while they are in a public location.
A specific phobia relates to a specific thing, place or person. Examples of specific phobias include, a fear of bridges, snakes, spiders, doctors, small spaces, storms or tunnels to name only a few.
Though there is no known actual cause for phobias, research has shown a relationship to traumatic experiences, genetics and/or chemicals in the brain could be related to development of a phobia. Some phobias develop during childhood from observing a parents fear, for example, an individual fearing spiders may have developed the phobia from observing their parents reaction to their of spiders.
Treatment for phobias includes various forms of therapy and/or medications. Exposure therapy, a component of cognitive behavioral therapy is the most frequently used therapy as treatment for a phobia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, when exposure therapy is used, approximately 75% of those with a phobia, will overcome the fear. During exposure therapy sessions, the individual is gradually exposed to the object that is producing the fear. There are several steps before the individual gets to the point of an encounter with the phobia, for example for a fear of spiders, the person would be ask to draw a picture of a spider, then look at a color photo of a spider, the process continues with the individual being gradually exposed to the spider until they are able to be in the same room or perhaps allow a spider to be on their hand.
Exposure therapy can be extremely uncomfortable for the person experiencing the phobia, but each process is closely monitored by a therapist and they are not put in any harmful situations. Medications will not “cure” the phobia, they are prescribed, however, for assistance with the anxiety and/or depression experienced as a result of the phobia. Fear can be debilitating, it can interfere with someone’s life to the point of total isolation. Individuals often lose their employment as well as all contact with friends and family due to their fears. It is possible to overcome the phobia with the proper treatment.
National Institute of Mental Health