THE BREAKDOWN OF PHOBIAS
*Caption: Subject poses in the dark.
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
The concept of “phobia” is one which is commonly used on a regular basis by individuals to describe what they deem to be their biggest fear. Although there are over a hundred different types of phobias from which people suffer, the most popular types of phobias are Acrophobia (the fear of heights), Claustrophobia (the fear of small spaces), Ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes), Agoraphobia (fear of being trapped in an inescapable place or situation) and Cynophobia (the fear of dogs).
Journalismiziko consulted with Psychologist Jessica Dawn Parker, who through her expertise, shed some light on the concept of phobias.
“A phobia is an intense, unreasonable fear of situations, objects, activities, or persons where the fear is far out of proportion to the actual danger or harm. The fear and distress is so intense that the person will do whatever they can to avoid coming into contact with the object of their fear, and often spend time thinking about whether they’re likely to encounter it in a given situation. Often, if you have a phobia, you probably realize that your fear is unreasonable, yet you still can’t control it. If you are exposed to the thing you’re afraid of, you become overwhelmed with extreme feelings of anxiety, fear, and even panic. This experience is so unpleasant that you will go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation you fear. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject,” said Parker.
She added that one might notice that the average person tends to refer to their fear, ‘phobia’, however the difference is that the reaction associated with a phobia is a lot more intense.
According to the psychologist, some individuals may be more likely to develop phobias than others, which is often due to genetics.
Both learning and genetics can play a part in the development of phobias. When an individual develops a phobia, they fast learn that they feel anxious when they are near the object or situation they fear – and that they feel relief when they avoid it. They learn that avoidance can reduce their anxiety (at least for the moment) and increase the likelihood that they will avoid the feared situation or object next time. However, the problem is that these avoidance behaviours have to keep increasing and happening even sooner to provide the same relief. Pretty soon, the person finds himself spending time worrying about the possibility of encountering the feared situation and avoiding anything that might bring them into contact with it.
Having been in the field of psychology for a good few years, and encountering different kinds of phobias, Social Phobia is one which Parker has mostly been exposed to in her field of work.
“In our context, working with young adults, we tend to see quite a lot of Social Phobia. People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work, school, or other activities,” she said.
She also emphasised that there is no particular age or race group in which phobias are most prevalent. Phobia’s are linked more to a situation or event in a person’s life rather than a demographic and an example of such is children who have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are at risk for developing a phobia. Distressing events such as nearly drowning can bring on a phobia.
Parker went on to look at Nyctophobia which is defined as the extreme or irrational fear of the night or of darkness.
She added that the reasons for the suffering of Nyctophobia may vary.
“As you can see from the causes of a phobia, there could be any number of reasons why a person develops Nyctophobia. However, research has shown that Nyctophobia may be a result from a traumatic event that may have occurred at some point in the person’s life,” said Parker.
She concluded by sharing ways in which individuals suffering from a phobia can overcome it, and how those around them can assist.
“I would encourage anyone dealing with a phobia to reach out to a counsellor or psychologist, as most phobias can be treated and cured. On their own a person is encouraged to make some simple adjustments to their lifestyle may reduce the symptoms of a phobia, such as panic attacks. This could include: regular exercise, eating healthy, regular meals, getting enough sleep, reducing or avoiding caffeine and other stimulants. Other self-help techniques include:
- relaxation techniques – a series of physical exercises that may help you relax and control your breathing;
- visualisation – combines relaxation and breathing techniques with mentally visualising how you will successfully deal with a situation that could cause anxiety;
- self-help groups – a useful way of meeting others with similar experiences and sharing ways of coping,” clinched Parker.