Phobia is different from fear, despite having some similar characteristics. While one is a natural reaction of the organism, the other has reached disproportionate and irrational levels. Due to its intensity, it can cause suffering to the individual and reduce their ability to feel good daily.
What is the Difference Between Fear and Phobia?
When we feel fear, the body goes into “fight or flight” mode, preparing to respond to a threat to safety or life. There are several ways to feel it. Many people, for example, fear experiencing a natural disaster, even though they have never had such an experience.
As they are aware of their destructive nature, they are afraid of losing their personal belongings, of being injured, of having their home destroyed, or of losing their lives. In this case, the feeling is fed by prior knowledge acquired through external sources.
There is also fear from trauma. If you were bitten by a dog as a child, you may carry the apprehension towards the animal for a long time or the rest of your life.
Another way to develop a fear is through learning from others. A child who sees his mother react fearfully to a cockroach, for example, may have the same fear.
Finally, there is the fear of the unknown. Typically, it is related to ghost stories, never-before-seen situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future.
This natural reaction is positive to some extent. Without it, people would likely put their lives at risk through dangerous acts. When the fear gains exaggerated proportions, however, it gives rise to phobia.
Therefore, this is characterized as an intense and terrifying fear, which appears in the face of events, objects, or animals considered non-threatening. Clinically, it is classified as an anxiety disorder.
How Are the Body and Mind Affected?
The main effect on physical health is the excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol. Its increase can cause a series of complications.
These include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, interference with insulin production, increased abdominal fat (can lead to obesity in some cases), and the appearance of skin allergies.
Other physical symptoms are nausea, dizziness, body tremors, migraine, chest pains, discomfort, and excessive sweating.
For mental health, the consequences are equally diverse. The phobia can prevent you from functioning normally on a day-to-day basis, paralyzing you in the face of the source of terror and triggering panic attacks.
It also causes extreme anxiety and stress, both of which can encourage you to modify habits and behaviors to avoid feeling fearful.
While some people have phobias that don’t interfere with their routines often, such as spiders or snakes, others can’t live with what causes them apprehension. As physical and emotional discomfort results in great anguish, the person does everything to avoid meeting the source of terror.
This avoidant behavior can drive you away from work, friends, and family. Self-imposed isolation deprives a person of enjoying the good aspects of life that are essential for mental health. Because it is an irrational fear, however, she is rarely able to have this perception.
What to Do During a Crisis?
During an anxiety crisis or panic attack, friends or family should try to calm the person down, reassuring them of the absence of risks to their safety.
Reminding her that sudden fear is a symptom of the crisis can also help her regain her composure. If words don’t comfort her, you can offer silent support and stay by her side until the restlessness passes. Then, ask about her well-being and encourage her to leave.
If you are alone and have a crisis, try to normalize the panting with deep breaths.
The best way to relieve symptoms is to seek a distraction from the environment, your clothes, people, or your cell phone. If necessary, call someone you trust to help you calm down.
You can also make use of visualization techniques to move away from mounting anxiety.
For example, imagining a peaceful, flowery field or a place you love to frequent can prevent bad feelings from worsening.
Repeating mantras mentally or quietly is another way to calm yourself.
Above all, remember that the crisis is fleeting. As frightening as the physiological symptoms may seem, especially when in a public setting, the distress will soon pass.
Possible Treatments for Fears and Phobias
Phobia is a disorder that must be treated so that the individual can overcome the exaggerated fear and regain control of his life.
In this way, reactions should not be labeled as “exaggerated” or “dramatic”. Forcing the person to face the fear, exposing them to the factor that causes distress and apprehension, is also not the best idea.
Below, see possible treatments for both fear and phobia.
Fear can be a hindrance to finding success in our lives.
It can prevent you from being intimately involved with another person (even though you have a desire to be in a relationship), jeopardize a current relationship, advance your career, or overcome challenges necessary for your personal growth.
The fear of being rejected, of failing, and of being frustrated has paralyzing characteristics. He can keep you stagnant for years or encourage you to feed emotional pain.
So, finding a solution for them, later on, may require a lot of effort on your part.
These fears often stem from insecurity, lack of self-esteem, self-sabotage, and childhood or adolescent trauma.
Events rooted in the past may have led you to think that you don’t deserve a good relationship, job, or future. This unworthy belief, coupled with a negative self-image, can make you fearful of life.
Fortunately, all these fears can be addressed in psychotherapy. You can share the worries, beliefs, and emotions that are causing the suffering with the psychologist so that together you can find ways to overcome the fears!
Patient participation is essential for treatment to be effective, so willpower is a crucial factor.
Therapy is an equally effective treatment for curing excessive fears. In more severe circumstances, drug treatment can be done together so that the debilitating symptoms are controlled.
The patient is submitted to relaxation techniques to minimize the manifestation of physiological symptoms, which can be reproduced during the encounter with the object causing fear outside of therapy.
With the recurrent practice of these techniques, the patient is eventually able to expose himself to the feared situation for a longer time.
In conjunction, visualizations are made for the patient to confront the pathological fear in his imagination.
This confrontation can cause uncomfortable reactions (panic, crying crisis, desire to run away or hide) in the first attempts. However, as he is led and supervised by the psychologist, the patient’s experience is controlled in such a way that it does not worsen their condition.
A certain level of discomfort, however, is expected and very common until the patient gets used to controlling the anxiety. and can reduce it through the techniques learned. Eventually, he will be able to do the fear confrontation without being shaken.