Understanding The Difference Between Fear and Phobia

Phobias and fears can be debilitating and embarrassing. A phobia is an "irrational fear," where the individual may have no history of having been in a bad situation. Phobias are anxiety-based, where the individual predicts an awful experience and focuses his or her thoughts on the likelihood of that fear. Fears may be based in prior bad experiences and are considered rational. A functional fear is one that motivates a positive response to a situation: fear of walking off the top of a building will prevent the person from doing it. Most of the time, however, fears and phobias are dysfunctional and interrupt an individual's ability to freely participate in usual life activities. Fears of flying and public speaking are among the most prominent.

You can easily distinguish a fear from a phobia. An example is a phobia of dogs. Many people voluntarily have dogs living in their homes, and they feed and love them. A person who has a phobia would never want to be near such a beast, even if it is locked in a cage! If "most people" do not share the fear, it may be a phobia.

What are the Types of Phobias?
There are hundreds of phobias, most of which fall into two main categories: Specific phobia: a type of disorder where an individual has a fear of a specific situation or object, such as public speaking, animals, flying, and tunnels. A common phobia is arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders.

Social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder): a type of disorder where a person has the constant fear of being criticized and judged by others. Such persons usually do not like to be exposed to unfamiliar places or people they do not know. One of the most common social phobias is called Agoraphobia, a type of disorder where a person is in a public place and fears that escaping or help will be impossible.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Avoidance of specific situations or objects
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Affect on work and relationships
  • Limited social life
  • Constant fear that someone is judging or criticizing
  • Extreme avoidance of public places
  • Rapid heartbeat, sweating, and nausea
  • Substance abuse

Frequently Asked Questions About Phobias
Q - What are phobias?
A - Phobias are irrational fears that can appear at any time.

Q - What are typical phobias?
A - The most pervasive is fear of public speaking.

Q - How do you get a phobia?
A - Phobias may appear subsequent to a traumatic event. The event may be directly or indirectly experienced by the person.

Q - Can phobias disappear on their own?
A - It is usually the case that phobias just do not disappear on their own.

Q - Can I "think myself out" of a phobia?
A - This approach has not been found to be very successful. It takes a great deal of time and effort, and usually the fear remains even after treatment. Actually, a person often learns greater tolerance for the fear, rather than reducing or eliminating the fear.

Q - What kinds of phobias are there?
A - Phobias are fears of specific events, places, people, or activities. The most common are fear of public speaking, flying, shots (injections), other medical and dental procedures, spiders, dogs, cats, snakes, frogs, blood, hospitals, doctors, driving (freeways, bridges), heights, and closed-in places.

Q - I don't like going into department stores or large grocery stores. Could this feeling be a phobia?
A - It certainly could. Often people have an aversion to a particular activity but do not feel they have a fear. Such a feeling is most likely a phobia and can be treated.

Q - I don't like using a public restroom. Can this be a phobia?
A - Most likely this feeling is a phobia and you can receive treatment to get rid of this problem.

Q - What's the difference between a phobia and a compulsion?
A - A compulsion is a felt drive to do something (like putting things in a particular location or order), but it does not involve a fear.

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