About 19 million Americans have one or more phobias that range from mild to severe. Whether it’s the fear of heights or dogs, those who experience a phobia can oftentimes find themselves struggling to navigate the anxiety that comes along with the fear, while finding a way to cope can seem nearly impossible for some. From the common nature of phobias themselves to how cognitive behavioral therapy can make a positive impact, here’s what you should keep in mind.
Understanding phobias — and how common they are
According to Verywell Mind, a phobia is defined as “an overwhelming, irrational, and persistent fear that leads to avoiding the object or situation.” Verywell Mind goes on to explain that phobias fall into a class of mental disorders, known as anxiety disorders. As a result, many who experience phobias also experience extreme anxiety along with the object/situation that is feared, and in some cases, an individual may organize their life to avoid their phobia, which can have further impacts. For instance, someone who has a fear of going to the doctor or dentist may put off important appointments, thus resulting in further health issues.
PsychCentral dives further into phobias, noting that a phobia can involve the fear of a particular object, person, situation, or activity. For those who experience a phobia, it’s noted that severe anxiety and panic attacks may occur when an individual is exposed to the object/situation they’re fearful of, thinking about what they’re afraid of, or anticipating an encounter with the phobia. According to 2020 research, common phobias include aerophobia (fear of flying), acrophobia (fear of heights), dentophobia (fear of going to the dentist), to name just a few, though there are rare phobias out there as well (like anthophobia, the fear of flowers).
How therapy can help
Thanatophobia, or the fear of death, is another common phobia — many fear death, for instance, due to the uncertainty surrounding the matter. The question “what happens after you die” can easily cause distress, causing individuals with this phobia to ruminate on the potential pain associated with death or the fear of no longer existing. As a result, someone who fears death may experience additional symptoms, such as increased anxiety, hypervigilance, and hypochondria — all of which can impact a person’s life. While many may manage the fear of death through radical acceptance or spirituality, treatments and therapies for phobias can range from medications such as anti-anxiety medicine, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy (talk therapy), exposure therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), depending on the individual and their circumstances.
The value of CBT
It’s important to note that about 75% of people with specific phobias are able to overcome their fears through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), while 80% of those with social phobia find relief from medication, CBT therapy or a combination, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. A separate Verywell Mind post explains the role of cognitive behavioral therapy in managing phobias, explaining that CBT “enables you to manage your fears by helping you gradually change the way you think.”
For those who are struggling on a regular basis when it comes to fear and anxiety of a particular phobia, getting help through therapy may involve different techniques. Healthline notes that depending on the issue you’re navigating (as well as your goals), there are several ways to approach CBT. For example, it’s noted that exposure therapy can be used to confront fears/phobias. “The therapist will slowly expose you to the things that provoke fear or anxiety, while providing guidance on how to cope with them in the moment,” states the Healthline article, which goes on to point out that this can be done in small increments, allowing an individual to navigate their fears over time.
Having a phobia is common, and while it can seem nearly impossible to overcome, there are ways to navigate the matter. That said, managing phobias can be done in several ways, such as through CBT and exposure therapy.
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