Irrational fears, also known as phobias, are fairly common, but when you suffer from a phobia, it almost seems exclusive to you.
When normal fear couples with an anxiety disorder, it creates an unrealistic fear. This is because of the crippling anxiety the irrational fear can cause when not treated.
In fact, most people who have phobias also suffer from one of the many anxiety disorders that result from panic attacks. This causes significant distress and is just one of the many mental disorders that plague millions of adults.
Irrational Fears Explained
Technically a mental disorder, phobias affect approximately 19 million Americans, and that’s just the number of people who report them. Most of us have probably grappled with an extreme fear or two at some point in our lives.
Many of them stem from childhood fears that trigger a fear response well into adulthood. However, for many of us, we learn to live with it.
For others, the uncontrollable anxiety it induces can negatively affect our lives to the point that we need to seek help. If we don’t get help from a mental health professional and the irrational fear and anxiety disorder persist, we risk losing control of our lives.
According to the American psychiatric association, phobias are broken down into categories. The diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) states that these irrational fears can be loosely broken down into the following categories: specific phobia, social phobia, or agoraphobia.
Most of these accompany some form of panic disorder. They affect both men and women at about the same rate, but statistics show that men are more likely to reach out to a mental health professional about said fears.
So what are irrational fears, exactly? Why do we have them? How do they affect us? And what can we do about them?
This article will dive into the world of phobias and attempt to answer these questions. If you have a phobia, know that you aren’t alone and that help is available. Often, the first step in fixing the problem is understanding it, and this article will help you to do just that.
What is an Irrational Fear?
We’re supposed to be afraid of things. Normal fears keep us safe. For example, even newborns have fears. Every newborn is afraid of loud noises and falling. Being afraid of the things that are unknown or dangerous or scary-looking keeps us safe because we avoid the things we’re afraid of.
An irrational fear is one that consumes us. When we see the thing we fear, we are triggered, and we experience disabling anxiety.
We may freeze up, we may have an all-out panic attack, or we go to lengths to avoid our phobia that stretches to disrupting our lives. This is what separates something that most humans would be afraid of from something that is a phobia.
It’s not something that we can just admit we’re a little afraid of and work through it on our own. It’s an intense fear that spurs irrational thoughts. Many times there is no real threat in what we’re phobic of.
Types of Phobias
Specific phobias are intense fears that are specific to a thing. These are common. People with these phobias usually know that they are irrational, but they persist, nonetheless.
People with untreated specific phobias will go to almost any length to avoid having to be around the thing they are afraid of, regardless of how silly they may look or how it affects their lives.
Common phobias include:
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
- Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
- Claustrophobia: Fear of small or tight places
- Mysophobia: Fear of germs
- Acrophobia: Fear of heights
We’ve all heard of and probably know of a germaphobe. Maybe they carry sanitizer around all of the time, don’t shake hands, don’t touch surfaces if they can help it, would never share a drink or food with someone, avoid any place that’s not sterilized, and they stay far away from anyone who is or may be sick.
All of us probably know someone who is deathly afraid of spiders. A regular, tiny garden spider in the house is enough to induce a panic attack.
If a spider touches them, they have a total meltdown, and if they see a spider, they need someone to kill it before they’ll enter the room or go near where the eight-legged creature is.
Or think about the claustrophobic person you know. This person probably hates elevators, especially crowded ones.
Some can’t sit in the middle seat in the backseat of a vehicle. Some can’t handle stepping into a small closet or being in a small room if several people are in it.
These people know that nothing terrible is going to come of being in a tight spot, but they can’t help but be terrified anyway.
Most of us know someone with a fear of heights. They don’t climb trees, they wouldn’t dream of climbing a ladder, and you’ll never see this person signing up for things like bungee jumping, going for a hot air balloon ride, or riding a roller coaster. The mere thought of not being on solid ground can spur a panic attack.
Social phobias center on intense phobia based upon humiliation and embarrassment in a social setting.
Most people affected suffer from irrational thoughts when faced with having to do things such as giving presentations, meeting new people, speaking on the phone, interviewing for a job, going on a date, or starting at a new school.
They are so convinced that they will be mocked, made fun of, or embarrassed that they go out of their way to avoid these situations entirely.
These people may decide not to call a doctor to make an appointment for an illness, so that they don’t have to speak to someone on the phone.
These people may apply for a job but then not show up to the interview because they’re terrified of the one-on-one situation of the interview. These people may stand up a date because they can’t fathom spending time with someone and carrying on a conversation.
People with social phobias aren’t necessarily afraid of people. They’re afraid of social situations.
Having to perform for or around another person is terrifying to the point that a person avoids certain situations entirely, regardless of how it may negatively impact their livelihoods, happiness, or success.
Most people think that this disorder is the fear of crowds or people, but it’s more specific than that. Agoraphobia is the intense fear of a place, situation, or group setting that you can’t get out of.
You’re trapped. And there are people everywhere.
Most of the time, people with this phobia will avoid crowded spaces, public or social events, and any situation that is not a controlled environment.
Finding Treatment for Fears and Phobias
Seek Professional Help for Mental and Medical Expertise
The good news is that the success rate for the treatment of phobias is high. Even if the phobia cannot be completely eradicated, it can be dealt with so that if a person must be in situations or around things they are phobic of, the anxiety associated with it is less crippling.
The not-so-fun news is that phobia treatment is different for everyone but usually involves some sort of exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy involves being exposed to the thing you fear. There are different levels of exposure therapy, and no one enjoys going through it. It is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that therapists and psychiatrists often use.
It can do a great deal of good but is often very uncomfortable and nearly always results in initial panic.
Direct exposure involves facing your fear head-on. You might have to climb a tall ladder if you’re afraid of heights or hold a tarantula if you’re afraid of spiders.
You may have to give a presentation to a large group if you have social anxiety. You might have to be in a crowded room for an extended period of time if you have agoraphobia.
This is done to show you that you are in no real danger in any of these situations. You learn to face your fear, and through exposure, you deal with it in the hopes that you will understand how irrational the fear is, and you’ll be able to move past it.
There are other, less mortifying types of this therapy as well. Sometimes you will simply be asked to think about your fear. For example, imagine running into a large spider web or envision yourself giving a speech.
Psychotherapy is almost always a part of the treatment associated with phobias. This is usually extremely helpful to the patient because coping mechanisms are taught, as well as teaching the patient to understand their mental disorder.
A psychiatrist can also evaluate to figure out whether depression and anxiety are causes or products of the fears and phobias and can go about treating all of the issues that have developed due to the crippling fear the patient has.
Often, medications are prescribed for anxiety and/or depression. When taken regularly and appropriately, medication can make a huge difference in not only the mental disorder itself but in the induced anxiety and the depression that may exist.
There is help available, and you should never feel silly asking for help. Most people find themselves bogged down by a phobia at some point in their lives.
You don’t have to live your life afraid, and you aren’t weird or disturbed if you do suffer from such fears.
Trying to just live with it is almost always unsuccessful, and it results in a person living an unhappy and self-restricted life.
If you related to any of the topics covered in this article, seek help. There’s no reason not to take the step to becoming a better and healthier you. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health.