Almost all of us experience fear at some point in our lives. It is very common to feel a little anxious the evening before a long flight or feel a little dizzy when looking down from a great height. For most of us, these feelings are temporary and manageable. For those living with phobias however, this unease becomes a persistent and all-consuming anxiety with the power to turn into overwhelming panic.
So what is the difference between fear and phobia? For starters, feelings of fear are very common – diagnosable phobias are not. Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder and are characterised by intense and irrational fears of an object or situation that poses no real threat.
Phobias come in three different forms:
1. Specific – This is when there is a specific object or situation causing the fear, such as dogs, heights or flying.
2. Social – These phobias revolve around social situations and are linked to social anxiety disorder.
3. Agoraphobia – This phobia is the fear of being in a place or situation that is perceived to be hard to escape from.
These phobias go further than general fear, causing phobic people to constantly worry that they will encounter the object/situation that they fear. Time and energy are often used to actively avoid the object of fear – and if they do come across it, they endure high levels of distress, experiencing nausea, shortness of breath and potentially even panic attacks.
So what causes these phobias? While the phobia itself may be very specific, the root cause is often less so. Phobias may emerge during childhood, pop-up randomly in adulthood or even occur as a result of a traumatic event involving the object of fear. Research has suggested that phobias could be linked to genetics, brain chemistry and even gender (apparently women are more likely than men to suffer from phobias).