A phobia is an intense fear of something that, in reality, poses little or no actual danger. Common phobias and fears include closed-in places, heights, highway driving, flying insects, snakes, and needles. However, we can develop phobias of virtually anything. Most phobias develop in childhood, but they can also develop in adults. If you have a phobia, you probably realize that your fear is unreasonable, yet you still can’t control your feelings. Just thinking about the thing you fear may make you anxious. And when you’re actually exposed to your phobia, the terror is automatic and overwhelming.
The experience is so nerve-wracking that you may go to great lengths to avoid it inconveniencing yourself or even changing your lifestyle. If you have claustrophobia, for example, you might turn down a lucrative job offer if you have to ride the elevator to get to the office. If you have a fear of heights, you might drive an extra twenty miles in order to avoid a tall bridge. There are four general types of common phobias and fears: Animal phobias, Natural environment phobias, Situational phobias, and Blood-Injection-Injury phobia.
Although phobias are common, they rarely cause considerable distress or a significant disruption of everyday activities. For example, if you have a snake phobia, it may cause no problems in your daily life if you live in a city where you are not likely to run into one. On the other hand, if you have a severe phobia of crowded spaces, living in a big city would pose a problem. If your phobia doesn’t really impact your life that much, it’s probably nothing to be concerned about.
But if avoidance of the object, activity, or situation that triggers your phobia interferes with your normal functioning or keeps you from doing things you would otherwise enjoy, it’s time to seek help. The most frequently used treatment for phobias is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy called systematic desensitization or exposure therapy. This treatment is very effective. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 75% of people are able to overcome their phobias through cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Most people associate PTSD with battle-scarred soldiers – and military combat is the most common cause in men – but any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event is perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable. PTSD can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers.
It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma. Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include: war, rape, natural disasters, a car or plane crash, kidnapping, violent assault, sexual or physical abuse, and medical procedures (especially in kids). Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. But for most people, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
If you have PTSD, however, the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse. But PTSD doesn’t always develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, although this is most common. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD take weeks, months, or even years to develop. The symptoms of PTSD can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.
While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms: Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event, Flashbacks, Nightmares, Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma, and intense physical reactions to reminders of the event. Treatment for PTSD relieves symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced. Rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, you’ll be encouraged in treatment to recall and process the emotions and sensations you felt during the original event.
In addition to offering an outlet for emotions you’ve been bottling up, treatment for PTSD will also help restore your sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has on your life. Recovery from PTSD is a gradual, ongoing processing. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, nor do the memories of the trauma ever disappear completely. This can make life seem difficult at times. But there are many things you can do to cope with residual symptoms and reduce your anxiety and fear.