Most of us have something we are afraid of: snakes, planes, clowns, heights, etc. In that moment of discussing our fear, we may start feeling nervous and fearful. As soon as we feel fear, our amygdala (a small, almond-shaped organ inside of our brain) sends signals to our autonomic nervous system, which has a variety of effects. This is when we get sweaty palms or a racing heartbeat, or may even feel a little nauseous. Stress hormones such as cortisone and adrenaline kick in, preparing our body for action. All of this is perfectly normal, but there is a major difference between simply fearing something and having a phobia of something.

When someone has a phobia, their anxiety gets in the way of their fear, affecting their daily life. Where someone is commonly afraid of spiders and may feel scared or anxious if they see one, as person with a phobia goes out of their way to avoid a potential threat of what they fear most. They may worry excessively about being confronted by what they fear, and may spend a considerable amount of time worrying about their fear.

Having a fear is rational, but a person who suffers from a phobia is not. That person’s life becomes centered around what they fear most – with their thoughts and actions being focused on avoiding that thing.  Simply thinking of a fear could bring a person with a phobia to extreme panic and dread. Unlike generalized anxiety disorders, phobias are usually tuned in to something very specific.

Many people who suffer from a phobia realize that their fear is irrational, but simply cannot help but to try and avoid their fear at all costs. Being around a close relative who has anxiety can place a person at risk for developing a phobia. Upsetting events, such as nearly drowning, can also create a phobia for some people. Exposure to extreme circumstances such as extreme heights or animal/insect bites may bring about a phobia as well.

Many people use the word phobia lightly, but there is much more to this disorder than simply being afraid of something. Phobias can fall on a scale from very annoying to extremely debilitating. With proper treatment and medical help, a person can be on their way to recovery from a phobia. Treatment typically involves exposure therapy, a tool used to change a person’s response to a fearful object, or cognitive behavioral therapy, a tool used to help change someone’s thought patterns. Medications may also be used to help a person with their anxiety.


New Vista Behavioral Health is a nationwide family of treatment providers, including primary mental health care. Holding our treatment programs to higher standards, we offer exceptional care along a full continuum of options to provide better outcomes for your recovery.

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