Specific Phobia

What is it?

Specific Phobia is exactly how it sounds… An irrational and unrealistic fear to a specific object, place, or situation. Most people experience anxiety, fear or discomfort when anticipating a painful or frightening experience or are faced with potential danger. However, people with specific phobia have developed an extreme fear which is usually disproportionate to the object, situation, or place. The result of this phobia is a high level of anxiety and distress when they encounter what it is that they fear, leading to extreme precautionary measures of avoidance. The combination of anxiety and avoidance not only exacerbates their fear long-term, but significantly impacts on their day-to-day activities and quality of life.

What are the signs and symptoms?

People with a specific phobia will often experience a persistent and unrealistic fear of certain situations, objects, or activities and go to great lengths to avoid instances where they may be confronted by this fear. Often the levels of distress and avoidance associated with their fear impacts on daily functioning including difficulties with concentration, avoiding previously enjoyed activities, people, or places, decreased social engagement, decreased work or school performance, and time or energy spent on managing their fear rather than pleasurable activities. Specific phobias can cause a person to feel a fear of losing control, an intense need to escape, and knowing the fear is irrational but feeling powerless to overcome it.

The body has a physiological response to anxiety (fear) and symptoms can include:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling dizzy, nauseous, short of breath, fidgety and/or agitated
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • A sense of tunnel vision or feeling “foggy”

Anxiety can also impact on a person’s thought processes including experiencing racing thoughts, obsessive thinking, a lack of concentration, lapses in memory, and distractibility.

How are Specific Phobias treated?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective evidence-based treatment for individuals with specific phobia. This approach includes exposure therapy as part of the treatment, allowing an individual to face their phobias in a safe, measurable, and controllable environment to reduce and eventually diminish their irrational fear and avoidance.


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