How to deal with phobias

What are phobias?

If you feel extremely frightened by something that other people think is not scary or dangerous and you do your best to avoid the thing that triggers your fear, you may have a phobia.

Phobias are a kind of anxiety disorder or irrational fear. In itself, anxiety is not a problem. We all need to feel anxious sometimes so we can be alert and deal with problems or danger. It is hard to live with though, if you feel it all or most of them time, or when it is so strong that you cannot carry on.

We are all familiar with the symptoms of anxiety: those tell-tale butterflies in the stomach, the need to go to the toilet again and again, the sleepless night. They are all natural ways of dealing with something challenging or dangerous, and usually they vanish once the danger is past. When you have a phobia however, your worry about the thing or situation you fear feels out of control and the symptoms more extreme. Your anxiety and panic may seem to take over your life.

Phobias fall into five main areas: agoraphobia – when you fear leaving your safe place; social phobia – when you fear social interaction; claustrophobia – when you fear enclosed spaces; blood or injury phobia, including a fear of the doctor or dentist; and simple phobias – when you fear something such as animals, vomiting, heights or flying. Some people have overlapping phobias.

Help with phobias

The good news is that you are not alone. Phobias are extremely common – and you can overcome or find ways of coping with your phobia.

You can help yourself, perhaps by talking to someone close to you whom you trust or join a self-help group and find out how other people have dealt with a similar phobia. You can learn to relax, to reduce the overall level of anxiety you feel, or use a self-help book, perhaps one that uses the principles of CBT.

If these self-help methods don’t work for you, it is worth asking for help from a professional. Many people put this off, but phobias really are common and treatable so it is well worth getting specialist support.

This support is likely to include a talking treatment like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that helps you to understand the reasons for your phobia. Your doctor may also suggest you try antidepressants to relieve your feelings of anxiety, perhaps in combination with CBT.

Case study

A 25-year-old woman was referred to Dr Adrian Winbow because she had a phobic anxiety disorder and severe phobia of travelling on the underground in London.  She frequently avoided travelling in this way and this made it very difficult to carry out her job commitments as she worked in an office in Central London.  She had had this phobia for five years. Dr Winbow treated her with a combination of antidepressants combined with relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and also individual cognitive behavioural therapy for 10 to 12 sessions.  Her mental state gradually improved and she was able to decondition her phobia.  She has since been able to travel on public transport with no problem and her confidence and self-esteem have risen considerably.

There are several organisations which can help with phobias.

Anxiety UK: A charity for people with all kinds of anxiety disorders, including phobias. Helpline: 08444 775 774

No Panic (The National Organisation for Phobias, Anxiety, Neurosis, Information and Care): Support for people with a range of disorders including phobias. Helpline: 0844 967 4848

TOP UK (Triumph Over Phobia): Help for sufferers of phobias, OCD and related anxiety.

Our consultant psychiatrists are very experienced in treating a variety of phobias. Appointments with Dr Adrian Winbow and Prof Tony Hale can be made by contacting Private Psychiatry direct.

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