Self-detecting a phobia may not be as simple as it sounds. TheNational Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 40 million adults in America, 18% of the population in any year, experience anxiety, fearfulness, and ambivalence to the point that it interrupts their otherwise normal daily lives. A phobia is one of a class of disorders known as “anxiety disorders” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), the bible of diagnosis for those working in the mental health field.
The main component of a phobia is the experience of overwhelming fearfulness when exposed to the subject of the fear. In fact, for many sufferers of a phobia, just thinking about the situation or object of their fear is enough to set off an anxiety response. In a phobia, the fear is typically connected to and triggered by either a situation or exposure to a specific object. When a person finds herself in a particular situation or even thinking about it, she notices her fear and anxiety rising. Daily routines may be upset due to the avoidance required to quell the fears.
Situational Phobia and Examples
In the situational type of phobia, individuals become fearful and anxious in a situation particular to them. Examples would be the fear of flying in airplanes or feeling fear and anxiety about being in places where they perceive escape is not possible. Another common situational phobia is the fear of driving across bridges or on interstate highways.
An object specific to the individual triggers some phobias. Consider the man who cannot stand to see a dog, touch a dog, or even think about a dog. Think about the woman who removes all her kitchen knives from the drawers and hides them away from sight. People suffering from phobias related to specific objects are occasionally encountered in the mental health profession.
Subtypes of Specific Phobias
There are five subtypes of Specific Phobias listed in the DSM-IV-TR. They are:
• Animal-fears triggered by animals or insects,
• Natural Environment-anxieties about water or storms,
• Blood-Injection-Injury Type-triggered by the sight of blood or needles,
• Situational Type-fears set off by exposure to specific situations (discussed above), and
• Other Type-fears cued by various stimuli not listed in prior categories.
Social phobia occurs often enough to earn a separate classification in the DSM-IV-TR manual. Social Phobia involves feeling great anxiety when subjected to specific social situations. An example would be a person who hates to go to cocktail parties to the extent that she experiences such anxiety about them that she refuses to go to any cocktail party under any circumstance.
Questions To Ask Yourself
The best way to determine if you have a phobia is to ask yourself: 1–Do I have intense fears and anxieties that are outside the realm of normal human response related to a situation or event, 2-Do I avoid situations or objects of my fears and anxieties, and 3-Is the normal course of my life interrupted because of my fears and anxieties? It is not only the presence or intensity of the fear and anxiety, but the avoidance factor, in great part that ascertains the presence of a phobia. Finally, if you make decisions in your daily life based on your fears (i.e. not to go to work or to school, for example), you may very well have a phobia.
If you think you might have a phobia, consider letting your primary physician know. Also, contacting a mental health counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for an assessment and treatment of the symptoms is recommended.
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual website. Accessed March 17, 2010.
How To Tell If You Have Any Phobia, Helium website (Original version of this article).
National Institute of Mental Health website, 2010. Anxiety Disorders NIH Publication #06-3879 (Online). Accessed April 17, 2010.