Phobias are Scary

Katherine Roth

More than 10% of people in the United States have phobias. What is a phobia? A phobia is a fear which is caused by a specific object or situation. The fear can be caused by the actual presence of the object or situation, or even by the anticipation of it taking place. Within the United States, women are found to far outnumber the number of men with phobias. Phobias cause characteristics of an anxiety attack, so those who have phobias try to avoid any situation that might cause them to feel this panic.

The most common phobias are Achluophobia (fear of being in darkness), Acrophobia (fear of heights), Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or fear of leaving home), Claustrophobia (fear of being in closed spaces), Demophobia (fear of being in crowded places), Mysophobia (fear of germs or dirt), social phobia (fear of being around unfamiliar people in social situations) and Xenophobia (fear of strangers).

These and other phobias are usually diagnosed when people find that their schoolwork, job or personal relationships suffer due to their intense fear of the particular object or situation. They then seek professional help. However, phobias are often undiagnosed because people simply learn to avoid situations which cause them anxiety.

Treatment of phobias usually focuses on behavior therapy. Behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses basic learning techniques to modify maladaptive behavior patterns by substituting new responses for undesirable ones. In the safety of the therapeutic situation, people with phobias are gradually introduced into the very situation that normally causes them anxiety with the ultimate goal of conquering that fear. They learn that they can control their anxiety while gaining greater and greater exposure to their phobic situation.

Viewers of the MTV show “True Life” might remember Morgan, who had OCD and performed rituals because she was so fearful of her mother dying. Morgan attended behavioral therapy in order to conquer her fear and gain control of her life. Part of Morgan’s therapy was to face her worst fear and pretend to attend her mother’s funeral. At times, medication is prescribed to those affected by phobias in order to help control their anxiety.

As common as some phobias may be, there are phobias documented that are quite uncommon. Such phobias include aerophobia (fear of swallowing air), arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth), geniophobia (fear of chins), and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words). And those are just some strange phobias – there are many websites that document other atypical phobias.