Factsheet: PhobiasEveryone feels anxious or uneasy from time to time. Your first day on a new job, planning for a long trip, going to the dentist....your palms sweat, you feel shaky, your heart pounds. Some anxiety helps to keep you focused on the job at hand. However, when your anxiety is so serious that it interferes with your work, leads you to avoid certain situations or keeps you from enjoying life, you may be suffering from a form of the most common type of mental disorder, an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are not just a case of "nerves." You can’t overcome an anxiety disorder just through willpower, nor can the symptoms be ignored or wished away. These disorders cause you to feel anxious most of the time, making some everyday situations so uncomfortable that you may avoid them entirely. Or, you may experience occasional instances of anxiety that are so terrifying and intense that you may be immobilized with fear.
Although these conditions can be very frightening and disabling, they are also very treatable. It is important to recognize the symptoms and seek help.
There are three main groups of phobias which include:
Agoraphobia causes people to suffer anxiety about being in places or situations from which it might be difficult or embarrassing to escape--such as being in a room full of people or in an elevator. In some cases, panic attacks can become so debilitating that the person may develop agoraphobia because they fear another panic attack. In extreme cases, a person with agoraphobia may be afraid to leave their house.
Specific or Simple Phobias produce intense fear of a particular object or situation that is, in fact, relatively safe. People who suffer from specific phobias are aware that their fear is irrational, but the thought of facing the object or situation often brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Specific phobias include persistent fear of dogs, insects, or snakes; driving a car; heights; tunnels or bridges; thunderstorms; and/or flying. No one knows what causes them, though they seem to run in families and are slightly more prevalent in women. Specific phobias usually begin in adolescence or adulthood. They start suddenly and tend to be more persistent than childhood phobias. When children have specific phobias--for example, a fear of animals--those fears usually disappear over time, though they may continue into adulthood. No one knows why they persist in some people and disappear in others.
Social Phobia can produce fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people. This problem may also be related to feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and can drive a person to drop out of school, avoid making friends, and remain unemployed.
Although this disorder is sometimes thought to be shyness, it is not the same thing. Shy people do not experience extreme anxiety in social situations, nor do they necessarily avoid them. In contrast, people with social phobia can be at ease with people most of the time, except in particular situations. Often social phobia is accompanied by depression or substance abuse.
People suffering from social phobia may:
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For More Information:For help finding treatment, support groups, medication information, help paying for your medications, your local Mental Health America affiliate, and other mental health-related services in your community, please contact us.
If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.
Page last updated: 2/24/2009