Phobias are particular fears that are out of proportion to real dangers. It’s possible to develop a phobia to almost any situation or thing, but the most common include:
- social phobia – anxiety about how you are seen and judged by other people or fear of being humiliated in social situations or at times when you are on show, speaking or performing in public
- agoraphobia – fear of leaving home; going into shops, crowds and public places or travelling alone in trains, buses or planes
- fears attached to specific things, such as fear of heights, spiders, mice, enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), needles, thunder, darkness, flying, dentistry, using public toilets, eating certain foods or the sight of blood or injury.
People with a phobia will try to avoid the object or situation they fear. For example, someone with agoraphobia may find it very difficult to leave their house at all.
The symptoms of your anxiety – such as a racing heart or feeling faint – may be frightening in themselves and these are often associated with secondary fears of dying, losing control, or ‘going mad’.
The Mental Health Foundation has produced a range of well-being podcasts that can help you relax and improve your sense of well-being. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/podcasts/
Strategies to help you cope
You may find it useful to draw up a list of the things or situations that make you anxious. You can then imagine the least frightening while practising relaxation techniques. For example, someone with a phobia for spiders might begin by looking at a picture of a spider and finish by touching a spider, while practising relaxation techniques throughout.
With the support of a mental health professional, this technique is usually very successful.
You may prefer to put yourself directly into a situation where you have to face up to your fear, with help and support from a friend or therapist. This is known as exposure treatment. For example, if you are frightened of flying you may be able to cure your fear by actually getting on to a plane.