A phobia is a state of high anxiety (not just a panic attack) that is linked to some trigger. Its usually defined as an “intense, irrational fear of an object, situation or person.” The fear leads to avoidance, or minimal contact, with whatever causes the fear.
It’s not uncommon to have fears, such as of spiders or heights. Sometimes these can be quite intense; for some reason my sister has a strong fear of snakes that would mean avoiding them on a trip to the zoo! Fortunately for her a “snake phobia” isn’t a particularly disabling anxiety problem in a big city.
Sometimes we may become so fearful that even just thinking about the feared situation can result in strong feelings of panic. Consequently we avoid anything to do with the situation. Avoidance can lead to a restricted, dysfunctional lifestyle. Knowing you cannot do something can further undermine confidence in other situations.
For example if you have a panic attack in a supermarket, you may start avoiding that particular shop for fear of a repeat. Then your confidence slips going into any supermarket. This soon extends to large shops where there is some distance from the door. We fear what might happen, as much as what already has. A phobia of supermarkets can extend into a phobia of shops generally. Its all too easy for this spiral of avoidance to continue, gradually eating away into your functional life.
The sad thing about phobias and anxiety, sleep panic attacks and panic in general is that people trying to help us end up making things worse. After having a panic attack in the middle of Sainsbury’s, my husband volunteered to do the weekly shopping – to help me (bless him). Unfortunately that helped reinforce in my brain that big shops were “bad, dangerous places”. What I should have done was face that fear and nip it in the bud.
The most common phobias are:-
Referred generally to being out of the home, but more specifically fear of being away from our “safe place” – which can be broader (a town) or narrower (a room) than home.
Fear of enclosed spaces, such as lifts and (in my case) trains.
Fear of any social situation. Basically anything that involves contact with people.
These are the ones you are most likely to have heard of, but a phobia can develop about anything. What is common with all phobias is that those suffering can see that they are irrational and illogical – but driven by a genuine fear of having another panic attack.
photo by Kilarin on flickr