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Fear protects you from danger. Phobias have little to do with danger. More than 19 million Americans have a phobia -- an intense, irrational fear when they face a certain situation, activity, or object. With a phobia, you may know your anxiety and fear are not warranted, but you can't help the feelings. And they can be so intense they virtually paralyze you. See what makes some people afraid in the slides ahead.
Hundreds of different phobias have been identified, including phobophobia or fear of phobias. But when talking about phobias, which are a kind of anxiety disorder, experts divide them into three categories -- agoraphobia, an intense anxiety in public places where an escape might be difficult; social phobia, a fear and avoidance of social situations; and specific phobia, an irrational fear of specific objects or situations.
The agora was a market and meeting place in ancient Greece. Someone with agoraphobia is afraid of being trapped in a public place or a place like a bridge or a line at the bank. The actual fear is of not being able to escape if anxiety gets too high. Agoraphobia affects twice as many women as men. Untreated, it can lead to someone becoming housebound. With treatment, nine out of every 10 people who follow through are helped.
Someone with a social phobia is not just shy. That person feels extreme anxiety and fear about how he or she will perform in a social situation. Will her actions seem appropriate to others? Will others be able to tell he's anxious? Will the words be there when it's time to talk? Because untreated social phobia often leads to avoiding social contact, it can have a major negative impact on a person's relationships and professional life.
Claustrophobia, an abnormal fear of being in enclosed spaces, is a common specific phobia. A person with claustrophobia can't ride in elevators or go through tunnels without extreme anxiety. Afraid of suffocating or being trapped, the person will avoid tight spaces and often engage in "safety seeking behavior," such as opening windows or sitting near an exit. That may make the situation tolerable, but it doesn't relieve the fear.
The most common type of specific phobia is zoophobia or fear of animals. Zoophobia is actually a generic term that encompasses a group of phobias involving specific animals. Examples include arachnophobia -- fear of spiders; ophidiophobia -- fear of snakes; ornithophobia -- fear of birds, and apiphobia -- fear of bees. Such phobias often develop in childhood and sometimes go away as the child ages. But they can persist into adulthood.
The Greek word bronte means thunder and brontophobia means fear of thunder. Even though people with brontophobia may realize thunder won't hurt them, they may refuse to go outside during a thunderstorm. They may even hide indoors by crouching behind a couch or waiting out the storm in a closet. An abnormal fear of both thunder and lightning is called astraphobia, a phobia shared by people and animals.
Acrophobia is an excessive fear of heights and manifests as severe anxiety. A person could have an attack just walking up stairs or climbing a ladder. Sometimes the fear is so great a person can't move. Acrophobia can create a dangerous situation for someone who has it. An anxiety attack can make it extremely difficult to safely get down from whatever high place triggered the attack.
Someone who has aerophobia is afraid of flying. The phobia generally develops after a person has a traumatic experience involving an airplane, such as going through extreme turbulence or witnessing another passenger have a panic attack. Even after the incident is forgotten, the fear stays and can even be triggered by watching film of a plane crash on TV. Hypnotherapy is commonly used to identify the initial trauma and to treat this phobia.
There is a spectrum of blood, injection, and injury phobias including hemophobia (fear of blood) and trypanophobia (fear of receiving an injection). Some people have an injury phobia, and others have a phobia about invasive medical procedures. These phobias are associated with fainting.
Some phobias sound like they belong on the chiller channel on cable TV. Triskaidekaphobia is an abnormal fear of anything related to the number 13. If the thought of ghosts makes you overly anxious, you may have phasmophobia. And despite the fact that vampires aren't real, some people are terrified of bats. Their phobia is called chiroptophobia.
Emetophobia is an unnatural fear of vomiting that typically starts early in life from some traumatic episode. For instance, someone may have witnessed a schoolmate vomiting in public or done so himself. The anxiety can be triggered by thoughts of vomiting or thinking of somewhere such as a hospital, where vomiting is common. As with aerophobia, hypnotherapy is commonly used in part of the treatment.
People with carcinophobia or cancerophobia live with an irrational dread of developing cancer. Every bodily discomfort becomes a sign for them that they have a malignant growth somewhere inside. A headache, for instance, is a sign for them that they have a brain tumor. Cognitive therapy can help someone with carcinophobia regain control of their life.
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