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Explains phobias, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
It can sometimes be difficult to understand why a person has a phobia of a particular situation or object, especially when their phobia seems irrational. However, it is really important that you take their phobia seriously and understand that it can cause them severe anxiety, panic and distress, and can affect their daily life. You may not understand why they are so afraid of something, but the anxiety and fear they feel is very real.
"I never complain because I see no point in doing so, but I get very tired of being politely mocked for my fear."
While avoiding a situation can make a phobia worse over time, it can be extremely distressing if someone is forced to face situations when they are not ready.
Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with, or force them to face their phobia. It is really important to be patient with them and work at a pace they are comfortable with.
Ask your friend or family member what you can do to help. For example, it might help to take them out of the situation, talk to them calmly or do breathing exercises with them. Often knowing that there is someone around who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked can help them feel safer and calmer.
"I feel better if I have someone with me who knows about my anxiety and how to calm me down. It helps if I just focus on that person talking."
If you think your friend or family member’s phobia is becoming a problem for them, encourage them to seek appropriate treatment by talking to a GP or therapist.
It can sometimes be really challenging to support someone with a mental health problem – you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health too, so you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help your friend or family member.
For further suggestions see our section How to cope when supporting someone else, which gives practical suggestions on what you can do and where you can go for support.
This information was published in March 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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