A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may not experience any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia.
If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that's causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress. In some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can make a person feel anxious or panicky. This is known as anticipatory anxiety.
If you don't come into contact with the source of your phobia very often, it may not affect your everyday life. However, if you have a complex phobia, such as agoraphobia, leading a normal life may be very difficult.
Types of phobia
There are three main types of phobia:
- Simple specific phobias (e.g. fear of spiders, fear of flying).
- Social phobias (e.g. fear of social incompetence or embarrassment).
- Agoraphobia – the fear of a difficult or embarrassing situation from which you cannot escape (usually related to panic attacks or acute anxiety).
Specific or simple phobias centre around a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older.
Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias. They usually develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance.
Specific or simple phobias usually develop during childhood. They can often be linked to an early negative childhood experience, but can sometimes be learnt from someone else, such as a family member who originally had the same fear. Other factors in the family environment, such as having parents who are particularly anxious, may also affect the way you deal with anxiety later in life.
It's not generally known what causes complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social anxiety. However, it's thought that genetics, brain chemistry and life experiences may all play a part in these type of phobias.
The physical symptoms a person experiences when faced with the object of their fear are real and aren't simply "in their head". The body reacts to the threat by releasing the hormone adrenalin, which causes symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating or dizziness.
How does it work?
The approach will vary depending on each individual's specific requirements, but it very loosely involves changing the automatic conditioned response in the subconscious mind that causes you to respond to certain triggers. This is something that many people cannot control through conscious thought processes because, when behaviours are so deeply ingrained in the subconscious, changes often can't be implemented at a conscious level.
Under hypnosis, the learned response within the subconscious can be changed to something more appropriate to the situation, so that in future, you will be calm, relaxed and in control in the situations that used to cause you anxiety. You become desensitised to those fears whilst under hypnosis and practice deep relaxation in those situations in your imagination. You then build a new learned response of natural calmness (i.e. a normal rather than oversensitive response).
This method of "systematic desensitisation" has a long history of effectiveness in clinical studies, and by combining this with hypnosis we can achieve positive, permanent results more rapidly.