Phobias and fears... what’s the difference?
Fear is a natural response caused by real danger. For example, we would all be scared of coming face to face with a wild, hungry animal, and that fear is a survival instinct which warns us against certain things or situations, and prepares us to deal with those situations.
A phobia, on the other hand, is an irrational fear of an object or situation that causes little or no real danger. For example, arithmophobia (fear of numbers) may cause certain individuals anxiety, but the fear itself won’t cause any danger. Phobias are linked to our subconscious, and because they are irrational, they can often be dealt with effectively through a range of methods, including hypnotherapy.
Phobias are extremely common and range from the less well-known i.e. asymmetriphobia (fear of asymmetrical things) to the more commonly recognised dentophobia (fear of dentists), or claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces). There will usually be strong avoidance behaviour connected with the phobia, and feelings of anxiety, loss of control and panic. Sufferers usually know their fear is irrational, but at the same time they cannot control it.
Phobias are often categorised into specific phobias and social phobia.
Some common examples of specific phobias are closed-in places, spiders or a fear of flying. It is a fear of a particular thing rather than just extreme fear, and these phobias usually begin early in the person's life and continue into adulthood. The phobia normally builds over time and can get worse as the situation is avoided for longer and longer periods.
Social phobia is extreme anxiety and discomfort in social situations. Fear of being watched and judged by others is overwhelming and although those suffering are aware that they are acting irrationally, they are unable to control and overcome their fears. Social phobia can vary from fearing just one situation to fearing all situations involving other people. Social phobia also usually begins in childhood or adolescence.
Signs you have a phobia
- racing heart
- difficulty talking
Causes of phobia
Phobias often begin early in an individual’s life and may occur for a number of reasons. It seems phobias can run in families; however whether this is hereditary or simply learned behaviour is unclear. For example a child may learn a phobia by observing a family member’s reaction to an object or situation. Traumatic experiences and brain chemicals are also believed to influence the development of phobias.
Treatment for phobia
Hypnotherapy can help to identify the root cause of the phobia and enable individuals to react to the particular object or situation they once feared in a calmer manner when encountering it in the future. Phobias are displaced fears and because they are not rational, they can be dealt with.
Hypnotherapy can also help with relaxation and visualisation techniques for desensitisation and forming new habits such as being more calm and relaxed.
Claustrophobia – what can help?
Claustrophobia is defined as an irrational fear of confined spaces. This can include spaces like lifts and trains. Claustrophobia is believed to affect around 5-7% of the world’s population.
A certain amount of fear surrounding being restrained is normal, and some people will experience this distress more than others.
The problems occur when this fear reaches a level that it starts to affect your daily life. You may find you are unable to use lifts, or that you have to change how you get into work. At the point where your fear starts to affect your day-to-day life, you are typically described as having a phobia.
This means that whenever you come into contact with the source of the phobia (in this instance, small spaces) you will feel a sense of rising panic and anxiety. This can then lead to physical sensations such as shortness of breath, palpitations and sweating – which in itself can be scary. In order to avoid this sensation again, you may avoid the trigger. Over time this pattern of avoidance becomes a pattern of behaviour, and can actually make your phobia worse over time as you stop exposing yourself to certain situations.
So, how can you overcome this phobia? First of all it’s important to remember that everyone is different and will respond to different therapies. Common treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure therapy. Both aim to train your mind to respond in a calmer way to triggers.
Another increasingly popular therapy being used to overcome claustrophobia is hypnotherapy. A hypnotherapist can use suggestion techniques to help the unconscious process information without the interference of the critical mind, thus reducing and removing the thoughts and anxieties associated with the trigger. They can also help you to associate the trigger (for example, a lift) with positive thoughts and feelings such as a sensation of calm and relaxation.