A phobia is not avoiding something we don’t like to see or don’t want to do, or having a certain fear of an animal or going into an operating room. In life, we encounter many situations that we perceive as threatening, and they naturally cause us some fear or insecurity. “But for it to deserve the qualification of phobia, the fear has to be disproportionate, unreasonable, escape the will of the person, occur persistently and cause avoidance of what is so feared.
In general, phobias can be persistent and long-lasting, but some disappear after six months and not all remain for life. For example, a study indicates that only 30% persist ten years after starting. “Phobias can disappear spontaneously or with professional help. Some people avoid specific situations or expose themselves to them gradually, which makes them less and less afraid because a phenomenon of habituation occurs.
Some mental health disorders, such as anxiety attacks, panic attacks, generalised anxiety, and depression, are most associated with phobias. But the expert warns of another problem that can arise from trying to overcome the phobia: using toxins, especially alcohol, as a sedative to deal with the phobia. This is the case for those afraid to get on the plane and have a few drinks with the idea of calming down. “If it is something repetitive, it can extend to a pattern of alcohol abuse, including other toxic substances.”
Certain phobias with age and gender
Phobias, which globally affect men and women equally, can appear at any time of life, but they more often begin at an early age. Both phobias related to nature (storms, precipices, water) and the animal world usually debut in childhood. Blood-injection phobia appears more in young people, and there is usually a family incidence since between 30-60 per cent of cases have first-degree relatives to whom it also happens.
Those related to animals affect 95% of women as the only phobic stimulus with few symptoms. And in the subtypes of specific phobias associated with public transport, tunnels, bridges, elevators, aeroplanes, vehicles or closed spaces, there is a greater incidence in the second and third decades of life.
There is another peak in the onset of phobic disorders around the age of 75, coinciding with the limitations of age and the fact that the person feels more helpless or vulnerable. In this group, phobias increase due to fears related to diseases and pain.
countless specific phobias
The catalogue of phobic disorders is almost endless, but simple phobias are usually subdivided into several groups.
First, there are zoophobias, which represent the fear of animals of any species. The best known are the fear of dogs (cynophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia), mice (muridophobia), birds (ornithophobia), insects in general (entomophobia) or bees (apitophobia).
Situations or elements of nature
They are followed by a wide range of phobias related to environmental situations or elements of nature. In addition to the well-known claustrophobia and agoraphobia, we can mention some such as cryptophobia (fear of small spaces), homophobia (of pointed objects), siderodromophobia (of railways), hypographophobia (of signing), potamophobia (of rivers), thalassophobia (to the sea), cheimophobia (to storms), aerophobia (to air currents), aviophobia (to fly in an aeroplane), brontophobia (to thunder), pyrophobia (to fire), homophobia (to cross the streets) and gephyrophobia (to cross bridges).
fear of disease
Another vast group is nosophobia or fear of disease. There are many connotations, depending on the type of disease that is feared (if it is cancer, cancerophobia; if it is cardiac, cardiopathophobia), but the cast goes further with the fear of contagion (mysophobia), vomiting (emetophobia), poisoning ( toxicophobia), blood and bleeding (hematophobia), deformity (dysmorphophobia), being buried alive (taphiophobia) or death (thanatophobia).
There is a type of blood/injection phobia that presents different symptomatology from the others since anxiety or fear adds an intense vasovagal response (fainting) that does not occur in other specific phobias. It can occur when undergoing an invasive medical procedure on oneself or when it is witnessed in another person. It will never occur due to fear of animals/insects, heights or illness.
There are many more phobias than those mentioned here, some very individualised, although only a small percentage require clinical consultation. The vast majority do not consult about them because they adapt or avoid the situation that causes them. If you’re terrified of heights, you don’t climb a peak; if on the plane, you limit yourself to ground transportation; if the bugs, avoid the outdoors. “The fear of dogs is very common, even if it is of a small puppy that comes to greet you, and the person knows that it is absurd but cannot control it and causes an avoidance. There is already a phobia if you dispense with something important due to the dog’s presence.”