Some facts about phobias

Edited by Jill Wright,

some facts about phobias

This post is from one of Psychology Melbourne's psychologists, Natalie-Mai Holmes.

Phobias are much more common than you probably think. No fewer than 11 per cent of Australians are thought to suffer from an extreme, irrational and frequently debilitating fear of something that most people consider harmless.

Fear is a natural response to real danger, stopping us from doing risky things and preparing the body to run or defend itself. A phobia, on the other hand, quite frequently provokes the sort of terror that renders people incapable of either response – not that physical action is generally appropriate.

Some of the more common phobias that sufferers will go to extreme lengths to avoid include: 

  • Social phobias, e.g. fear of interacting with other people
  • Situational phobias, e.g. fear of driving or being in a closed in place or a wide open one
  • Creature phobias e.g. fear of spiders, snakes, dogs etc.
  • Environmental phobias, e.g. fear of storms or water.

Phobias can have long-lasting psychological and physical effects and become so severe that they negatively impact a person’s quality of life.

People with phobias often realise that the fear is irrational but still can’t control their response.

When your imagination vividly exaggerates threats and dangers, the physical body instinctively responds to protect you from the catastrophes that you’ve imagined.

This fear can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and a range of avoidance behaviours which have a detrimental impact on a person’s daily life. 

Psychologists have successfully helped thousands of people overcome deeply embedded phobias. They most commonly employ exposure therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Exposure therapy involves repeated, gradually heightened controlled exposure to the source of a phobia, and the thoughts and reactions that accompany it.

Being AWARE can help people manage phobias.

The AWARE model provides five useful steps to help people manage the anxiety caused by phobias:

  1. Accept the emotion for what it is. Accept the present reality of experiencing an intense emotion and the fact that your nervous system is functioning normally and is responding to fears and dangers, albeit imagined ones.
  2. Watch relief come to you as you become curious about your emotion and scale it into proportion. Rate your emotional intensity from 1-10 over time and notice how it peaks and then decreases. 
  3. Act normally, as though feeling better already. Notice you can gradually let go of unnecessary signs of anxiety, knowing you have already gone through the two most important steps.
  4. Repeat the process of Accept, Watch and Act normally if you experience another wave of fear or anxiety. Practise the steps each time until it becomes second nature to you as you become more confident and in control.
  5. Expect the best. See any setbacks as an opportunity to improve your resilience and coping skills.

If you need some help managing your phobias contact Psychology Melbourne to arrange support in breaking the cycle of avoidance and change your relationship with anxiety.

(Photo Black Spider by v2osk on Unsplash)

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.