A phobia is an extreme form of fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation (such as going outside) or object (such as spiders), even when there is no danger.
For example, you may know that it is safe to be out on a balcony in a high-rise block, but feel terrified to go out on it or even enjoy the view from behind the windows inside the building. Likewise, you may know that a spider isn’t poisonous or that it won’t bite you, but this still doesn’t reduce your anxiety.
Many of us have fears about particular objects or situations, and this is perfectly normal. A fear becomes a phobia if it lasts for more than six months, and has a significant impact on how you live your day-to-day life.
It stops me living my life. Things that other people do without thought become huge ordeals for me.
What are the symptoms of a phobia?
The symptoms of a phobia involve experiencing intense fear and anxiety when faced with the situation or object that you are afraid of. If your phobia is severe, thinking about the object of your phobia can also trigger these symptoms.
I have a phobia of mashed potato. I just feel sick if I even hear the word – even writing this has been difficult.
Symptoms of a phobia include:
- feeling unsteady, dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- feeling like you are choking
- a pounding heart, palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- chest pain or tightness in the chest
- hot or cold flushes
- shortness of breath or a smothering sensation
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- numbness or tingling sensations
- trembling or shaking.
- feeling out of touch with reality or detached from your body
- a fear of fainting
- a fear of losing control
- a fear of dying.
If these symptoms are very intense, they could trigger a panic attack.
(See Understanding anxiety and panic attacks and tips: panic attacks for more information.)
Experiencing this type of acute fear is extremely unpleasant and can be very frightening. It may make you feel stressed, out of control and overwhelmed. It may also lead to feelings of embarrassment, anxiety or depression.
As a result, many people with phobias avoid situations where they might have to face their fear. While this is an effective strategy to start with, avoiding your fears often causes them to become worse, and can start to have a significant impact on how you live your life.