Understanding the Anxiety of Specific Phobia

Approximately 12.5% of U.S. adults experience “specific phobia” at one point or another during their lifetime. Specific phobia can be understood as “an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.” This anxiety disorder involves ongoing, excessive, intense fears of distinctive circumstances or entities. The level of fear associated with these phobias results in anxiety and avoidance.

Specific Phobia: The Fear and Anxiety

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), specific phobias are considered anxiety disorders. This classification is given due to the genuine and extreme level of fear associated with the phobia. The primary side effect of this fear is immense anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several recognized anxiety disorders, all of which share some things in common. However, specific phobia has very distinct markers that make it unique to other anxiety conditions. Below are some of the many symptoms associated with specific phobia:

  • Ongoing anxiety and fear regarding a distinct entity or circumstance (the phobia). The DSM-5 requires an individual to experience these feelings for more than six months to obtain a diagnosis.
  • An individual’s central phobia consistently causes anxiety and fear, resulting in continued avoidance.
  • These symptoms are generally irrational in comparison to the actual calculated danger of the object of the phobia.
  • Symptoms impact the individual’s ability to function, and they create mental distress.

The Phobias of Specific Phobia

An individual’s phobia center can vary greatly depending on the person. These centers may be animals, bugs, bacteria, heights, storms, small spaces, or many other things. Below is the categorical outline given by the DSM-5 on possible phobia centers:

  • Specifier Category: Animal Type (arachnids, insects, canines)
  • Specifier Category: Natural Environment Type (heights, thunder, water)
  • Specifier Category: Blood-Injection-Injury Type (needles, invasive surgery)
  • Specifier Category: Situational Type (airplanes, elevators, small places)
  • Specifier Category: Other Type (avoiding circumstances that can result in choking, vomiting, or contracting an illness; in children, avoidance of loud sounds or costumed characters)

Causes and Risk Factors

There is a lot of mystery surrounding specific phobias. The exact cause has yet to be determined. However, the following factors may be involved:

  • Initial scary encounters regarding the specific center of phobia that resulted in panic or severe anxiety
  • An existing fear that a parent may already have — genetic makeup may also play a role
  • Changes in the chemical makeup of the brain

In addition to the various possible causes of specific phobia, certain factors may increase a person’s risk of development. These may include:

  • Being under the age of 10 increases the risk significantly, though this disorder has been seen to develop later in life as well
  • Family members with specific phobias, as specific phobias can be a learned behavior
  • Personality traits such as being prone to negative or sensitive thoughts and behavior

What Treatment Looks Like

The avoidance and anxiety surrounding specific phobias are the primary effects of this disorder. Consequently, exposure therapy is often used as a treatment in combination with more traditional psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

During exposure therapy, psychologists construct a safe setting where participants are gradually exposed to their phobia center. Being exposed in this manner allows an individual to experience their phobia in a safe and controlled environment. Doing so helps them overcome the phobia gradually and reduces overall fearfulness and avoidance.

CBT is also very effective in treating specific phobia disorders. During CBT, individuals learn to recognize negative or harmful thought patterns and behaviors. As a person progresses through this therapy, they will learn how to process their issues and work through them one step at a time. This framework can result in the ability to process on the go and retrain the brain to accept more positive and productive thought processes.

Medication may also be prescribed for specific phobia cases. Whether the fear is proportionate to the object or not, the anxiety experienced in reaction to it is still very real. Antianxiety medications are the primary drug choice for treating specific phobias. These work to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and boost mood. In some cases, antidepressants and sleep aids may be administered due to the many co-occurring conditions that accompany anxiety.

Fear-Free Freedom

Have you ever envisioned a life where you are free of your fears and anxiety? A life where you can shed these troubles like a second skin? Take a moment to think about it. You are in control of your life and your future — you and no one else. Do you want to be free of these challenges? You can be. There are programs available to help you overcome your phobia so that you don’t have to live with it anymore. You can find freedom from the fear and anxiety that rules part of your life.

Whether the fear of a certain object or situation is considered out of proportion or not, the anxiety you feel from your phobia is very real and can be hard to manage. The stress factors of avoidance and anxiety are harmful to your mind and body. You can put an end to these challenges and we can help. At Alter Behavioral Health, we can help you overcome your phobia. Let us guide you toward a fear-free and anxiety-free life without hindrances that specific phobia disorder can inflict. You can live your life to the fullest and shed your fears. Call us today at (866) 691-4386 for more information and to get started with our all-encompassing treatment plan.