Phobias: Are We Getting More Phobic?
Are you afraid of heights? Needles? Flying? Driving? Specific, irrational, and life-hindering anxieties about something is called a “phobia.” And I’ve noticed at my practice that America is starting to develop more phobias than ever. With over 17% of the US population in the country suffering from some kind of phobia, I worry this number is growing due to Covid and the aftermath.
“Specific phobias,” as they are sometimes designated, are an anxiety disorder triggered by a...you guessed it, specific thing. Usually this comes in the form of something people are naturally squeamish about or avoidant of. No one wants to fall off a tall building - but people with a height phobia obsess over it and avoid situations where they might be at any height. Even if it’s a well-secured balcony a few stories up. Or even if it means quitting their job on the 22nd floor.
An untreated issue
People with phobias get to the point where the fear keeps them from normal functioning, and gets in the way of their life and relationships. This can last anywhere from 3-6 months, to a lifetime.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 17% of the US population suffers from some form of anxiety. Less than 40% are being treated. Phobias are embarrassing for some and the trigger is often too disturbing for patients to readily want to confront in therapy or a meeting with a psychiatrist. This makes phobias particularly challenging to treat.
Some common phobias
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM - 5) outlines some very common phobias such as: social phobia (fear of going out into social situations), nosophobia (fear of getting a disease...particularly troublesome in the age of Covid), thanatophobia (fear of death and dying), and atychiphobia (fear of failure).
There are also less emotionally heavy phobias which nonetheless cause their share of anxiety and suffering. These include the dreaded “globophobia” which is a fear of balloons mostly from the sound of them popping. There’s also “omphalophobia” which is a fear of belly buttons, even one’s own! Some sufferers will actually put a bandaid over their belly button so they won’t see or touch it. Almost 80% of Americans have a phobia about not having their cell phone. Fear of public speaking is often cited as the most common phobia.
Fear of flying is also particularly common and I see it a lot when meeting with patients. The idea of moving fast in the air with no control over the vehicle is enough to keep some people grounded for life. And of course these days I’ve treated patients with the fear of needles keeping many unvaccinated.
Cause and treatment
So where do these fears come from? Obviously no one likes diseases or failure but why do the fears of these things immerse some people to the point of disorder? Anxiety about danger kept us safe through our evolution. Phobias take it to the next level. The truth is doctors and scientists don’t know exactly where phobias come from, but they are certainly treatable.
Usually the treatment involves cognitive behavioral therapy. This means talking to a therapist about your problem and letting them guide you through new ways of thinking about it. Sometimes medication management is necessary.
At the end of the day though every phobia has its own set of circumstances. I adhere to a “different things for different situations” approach. For example, sometimes PTSD informs the kind of therapy we use to treat phobias such as reliving scary events and being able to process them in a way that helps a sufferer get over their fear. Sometimes OCD treatments are necessary for a sufferer to confront what makes them avoidant.
If you’ve reached your wits end about a specific phobia and you can’t overcome it yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Here at Bregman Medical Group we have decades of experience treating many disorders and phobias. For online treatment right to your device schedule at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340. In person appointments are also available.