Anxiety Illness

Phobias can turn a fear into a career-ender.

Most people have at least one thing they fear. But when a fear becomes so intense that it interferes with the ability to work, socialize or care for day-to-day needs, it is a phobia.

A trucker’s livelihood can be lost to a phobia that so affects him it stops him from doing his job.

There are several types of phobias, including social phobias and specific phobias, and they affect people of all ages in every part of the country. Name any object or activity, and at least one person out there is probably afraid of it. The National Institute of Mental Health has reported that 5.1 percent to 12.5 percent of Americans have phobias. All phobias are classified as types of anxiety disorders; they are the most common psychiatric illness among women and are the second most common illness among men older than 25.

Social phobia involves feeling very self-conscious in everyday social situations. A person with social phobia fears being watched or humiliated while doing something in front of others. It is more than just being shy or nervous and can cause extreme anxiety. You may fear an activity as mundane as signing a personal check, drinking a cup of coffee, buttoning a coat or eating a meal. The most common social phobia is the fear of speaking in public.

While many people with phobias know their fear may be extreme, they are unable to control it. Social phobias generally develop after puberty and peak after the age of 30, and they may run in families. Men and women have an equal chance of developing social phobia. Other anxiety disorders or depression often go hand-in-hand with this phobia. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs for relief.

Specific phobias are common, striking one out of every 10 Americans. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from this illness. Starting in the teenage and adult years, they may run in families. They begin suddenly and tend to last longer than childhood phobias, such as being afraid of the dark.

When a person has a specific phobia, they have an intense fear of something that poses little or no real danger. Some of the more common specific phobias are fear of closed-in places (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), escalators, elevators, tunnels, bridges, flying and animals, including dogs, insects, mice and snakes.

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Most people with these phobias know they don’t make sense. But facing their fear, or even thinking about it, can bring on a panic attack or severe anxiety.

Fortunately, all phobias are treatable. Most who seek treatment completely overcome their fears for life. Effective relief can be gained through either behavior therapy or medication.

If you think you may have symptoms of a specific or social phobia, a visit to your doctor is the best place to start. Your doctor will perform an exam to determine whether your symptoms are really due to this illness, or if you have another anxiety disorder or problem.

The next step your doctor may suggest is a visit with a mental health professional – a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor. They can prescribe the treatment needed for your recovery.

While it doesn’t take the place of mental health care, talking with trusted friends or a member of your faith community can also be very helpful. Family members can play an important role in a person’s treatment by offering support. Learning how to manage stress will help you to stay calm and focused. Research suggests that aerobic exercise may be of value as well. Other studies have found that caffeine, illegal drugs and some over-the-counter cold medicines can worsen the symptoms of these disorders.

More information about anxiety disorders and phobias is available from the National Institute of Mental Health by calling toll free (888) 8-ANXIETY.

Phobia Symptoms

  • Feelings of panic, dread, horror or terror
  • Recognition that the fear goes beyond normal boundaries and the actual threat of danger
  • Reactions that are automatic and uncontrollable, practically taking over the person’s thoughts
  • Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling and an overwhelming desire to flee the situation – all the physical reactions associated with extreme fear
  • Extreme measures taken to avoid the feared object or situation

Source: American Psychiatric Association

–Kristen Record