Phobia is more than feeling worried. It is excessive and unrealistic feelings of panic and/or dread about a situation or object. Common examples are fear of enclosed spaces like lifts (claustrophobia), fear of open spaces (agoraphobia) or fear of dogs (cynophobia).

Causes of phobias are:

Biological (having anxiety in the family)

Experiencing a negative experience (e.g. being stuck in a lift or bitten by a dog)

Having a medical condition

Brain injury

Substance misuse

Phobia can be very frightening and embarrassing. Because of this, many avoid situations that they are phobic of. Unfortunately, this increases the strength of the phobia.

What can be done?

Recovery is possible with support and treatment to help people with phobias learn how to control the condition. Learning more about anxiety and the body’s fear response and counselling may help. Gradual exposure to the feared situation or object is demonstrated to decrease phobias. Relaxing and monitoring apps may also help.

What help is there?

The best treatment for specific phobias is a form of psychotherapy called exposure therapy. Sometimes your doctor may also recommend other therapies or medication. Understanding the cause of a phobia is less important than focusing on how to treat the avoidance behaviour that has developed over time.

The goal of treatment is to improve quality of life so that your phobias no longer limit you. As you learn how to better manage and relate to your reactions, thoughts and feelings, you’ll find that your anxiety and fear are reduced and no longer in control of your life. Treatment is usually directed at one specific phobia at a time.

Exposure therapy focuses on changing your response to the object or situation that you fear. Gradual, repeated exposure to the source of your specific phobia and the related thoughts, feelings and sensations may help you learn to manage your anxiety. For example, if you’re afraid of elevators, your therapy may progress from simply thinking about getting into an elevator, to looking at pictures of elevators, to going near an elevator, to stepping into an elevator. Next, you may take a one-floor ride, then ride several floors, and then ride in a crowded elevator.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) involves exposure combined with other techniques to learn ways to view and cope with the feared object or situation differently. You learn alternative beliefs about your fears and bodily sensations and the impact they’ve had on your life. CBT emphasises learning to develop a sense of mastery and confidence with your thoughts and feelings rather than feeling overwhelmed by them.