Squeal like a little girl when you see a mouse? Anxiety disorders, including phobias, are common, affecting about one in 10 Canadians, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. There is a range of phobias including acrophobia (fear of heights); agoraphobia (fear of public places); claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) and social anxiety disorder or social phobia (anxiety about social situations). Other common phobias involve specific things such as water, blood, certain animals and flying to name a few.
Phobia causes The cause of phobias is not completely understood. There may be a learned component — you may learn phobias by observing a parent who had a phobia. Genetics and traumatic events may also contribute to the development of phobias.
Phobia symptoms If you have a phobia, and you cannot avoid what you’re afraid of, you may experience feelings of panic or terror; shortness of breath, a racing heart, trembling and a strong urge to get away which may lead to extreme measures to avoid the source of the phobia.
Phobia diagnosis/tests If your phobia is interfering with your daily life, you need to talk to your doctor about getting treatment. There’s no specific test to diagnose phobias. Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist who will ask about your symptoms and take your medical and psychiatric history to see if you meet the criteria for having a phobia.
Phobia treatment if you have a phobia, treatment will likely help you overcome your fears.
• Medications Anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants can help control the panic and anxiety associated with a phobia, and are often used for treating agoraphobia and social phobia.
• Therapy With cognitive behavioral therapy you will learn to confront the object or situation you fear in a carefully planned out way which helps you learn ways to cope with your physical and mental reactions to it. As you become desensitized to the thing you fear, you lose the symptoms of the phobia. Your doctor may recommend that you try both kinds of treatment.
Phobia prevention While it may not be possible to prevent a phobia, getting early treatment can minimize its negative effects. If you feel like your fear of an object or situation may be unreasonable or is affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor.
Canadian Mental Health Association