Panic grips your mind as sweat slides down your head, chills tingling down your spine. A phobia feels something like this. Phobias cause an excessive and irrational fear reaction (Andrew Watts), or in simpler terms, they terrify you. 19 million Americans suffer from a phobia, and those people don’t fail reality testing, meaning they’re not delusional. Phobias are different from normal fears because they cause more anxiety, stress, and they’re uncontrollable, which lets them classify as an anxiety disorder. The reason why phobias terrify you is mostly simple, and it mainly consists of your brain essentially tormenting you.
Traumatic experiences involving the object of terror, whether it be hearing about it or observing it, is one of the main factors for how phobias are developed. The brain likes to store information to recall it later on, and if someone faces a similar situation that caused them terror, their reaction would be the same. Within the brain, the amygdala triggers the fight or flight reaction, which heightens the mind and body’s awareness. The areas of the brain that manage stress and anxiety retrieve the memory more often than it should, essentially torturing you. Smaller factors can also play a part in developing a phobia, such as medications, genetics, physical and mental issues, and brain injuries. There is also a theory that phobias stem from the fear and instinct from ancient times of early humans. Symptoms of phobias include sweating, chest pains, pins and needles, uncontrollable anxiety, dry mouth, chills, nausea, headaches, and accelerated heartbeat. When you have a phobia, you tend to avoid whatever terrifies you at all costs, and when in contact with the object of terror, you stop functioning normally, giving in to the terror. Understanding phobias are vital to understanding those suffering from them.
When classifying phobias, you can break them down into three main categories; Specific, Social, and Agrophobia. Specific phobias are phobias with a specific name associated with the feared object, such as arachnophobia and claustrophobia, to name a couple. Social phobias are defined as a fear of being humiliated or underperforming in social situations(). Agrophobia is when you feel uncomfortable when help isn’t easily or readily available. Small spaces would be an example or Agrophobia. There are many types of Specific Phobias, too many to list and explain here. One scientist in the University of California, Mark Barad, trained two groups of mice to associate a sound with a mild electrical shock, creating fear within the mice. He then tried to cure that fear to the best of his abilities. One group of mice was continuously exposed to the noise and when being cured, they took about 20 minutes to overcome their fear. The other group was exposed to the noise in shorter two-minute bursts with 10 minutes of silence in between each burst. After being treated they still remained scared. To conclude which medicine works best, Mark tried two anxiety-reducing drugs on the first group of mice; propranolol and yohimbine. The ones treated with yohimbine lost their fear four times as fast compared to those who were treated with propranolol. The result of this test showed that with the knowledge that fears can be mostly cured, perhaps phobias could be cured as well.
There are actually multiple ways to treat phobias, and most people know their phobias, making it easier to treat. Anxiety-reducing medications, obviously, reduce anxiety, which is one of the major parts of phobias. Beta-blockers reduce physical signs of anxiety and lower your blood pressure by blocking out adrenaline. There are multiple variations of beta blockers, each either affecting your heart or brain. Non-heavy doses of tranquilizers also reduce anxiety. Therapists, to cure phobias, often practice exposure therapy. Exposure therapy isn’t a very creative name, as it simply exposes the person to their phobia. Some exposure therapy uses medication to heighten the adrenaline in your body, heightening your fear. During the session, someone could look at a picture of their fear, and like with the mice testing, after continuous exposure could cure your phobia. Furthermore, understanding phobias are important to understanding and possibly helping those suffering from phobias.