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Fear or phobia?

We all have fears. Some avoid heights at all costs; others crumble at the sight of spiders. Whatever it may be, chances are there’s something that causes you anxiety.

What scares you?
scared woman

But the real question is, are you simply afraid, or has your fear developed into a damaging phobia?

As human beings, we all experience fear. It’s a normal reaction that’s built into us to keep us alert and safe when danger is near. You may get worried when you’re home alone and hear a noise or feel out of sorts while on a plane. But so long as these fears are occasional and don’t interfere with your way of life, there’s no need to worry. But when what you’re scared of starts to impact your daily life and well-being, you may be meandering into phobia territory.

What is a phobia?

The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) describes a phobia as being an excessive and persistent fear of a situation or an object. When a fear is out of proportion with the actual level of danger associated with the situation, it is considered a phobia. Some of the more commonly known phobias involve animals (snakes, spiders), the natural environment (lightning storms), injuries (needles, blood) or specific situations (flying, small spaces). But there are plenty of other phobias that may not be as well known yet are every bit as upsetting to the affected person. So just because you’ve never heard your fear described as a phobia, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one.

How can you tell if a fear is a phobia?

The symptoms of a phobia fall into two sections. First is the anticipation of harm or danger as well as the fear of experiencing anxiety in the future. Second is the reaction a person has when they are presented with the feared object or situation. They experience immediate anxiety and sometimes even physical and emotional signs of panic. Together these components cause sufferers to avoid coming into contact with what they fear and to experience great distress when the situation cannot be avoided.

Can a phobia be treated?

If you or a loved one feels a phobia may be at work, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) recommends seeking the assistance of a medical professional. Many sufferers feel embarrassed about what they are experiencing and worry they will be labelled “overdramatic” or “crazy,” so they choose not to talk about it — much to the detriment of their well-being. But considering one in 10 Canadians is affected by an anxiety disorder such as a phobia, it really is nothing to be ashamed of. CMHA explains that psychotherapy, relaxation, breathing techniques and medication can all be effective treatments or ways to manage a phobia. So reach out, and don’t let a phobia control your life.

More on mental health

Ways to cope with anxiety
Are you depressed?
How to recognize and correct negative thinking

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