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Phobia (or irrational fear)


The term "phobia" refers to a wide range of psychological disorders, such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, social phobia, etc. A phobia is characterized by the irrational fear of a particular situation, such as the fear of taking an elevator, or of a specific object, such as the fear of spiders. But the phobia goes beyond a simple fear: it is a real anguish that seizes the people who are confronted with it. The phobic person is fully aware of their fear. Therefore, she tries to avoid, by all means, the feared situation or object.

Phobia (or irrational fear): understand everything in 2 min


On a daily basis, suffering from a phobia can be more or less disabling. If it is an ophidiophobia, that is to say a phobia of snakes, the person will, for example, have no difficulty avoiding the animal in question.

However, other phobias are difficult to work around on a daily basis, such as fear of crowds or fear of driving. In this case, the phobic person tries, but often in vain, to overcome the anxiety this situation gives him. The anxiety that accompanies the phobia can then evolve into an anxiety attack and quickly exhaust the phobic person, physically and psychologically. She tends to isolate herself little by little to stay away from these problematic situations. This avoidance can then have more or less significant repercussions on the professional and / or social life of people who suffer from a phobia.

There are different types of phobias. In the classifications, we find simple phobias and complex phobias first, which mainly include agoraphobia and social phobia.

Among the simple phobias we find:

Animal-type phobias which correspond to a fear induced by animals or insects;

Phobias of the "natural environment" type, which correspond to a fear caused by natural elements such as thunderstorms, heights or water;

Phobias of blood, injections or injuries that correspond to fears related to medical procedures;

Situational-type phobias which relate to fears induced by a specific situation such as taking public transport, tunnels, bridges, air travel, elevators, driving or confined spaces.

Prevalence


According to some sources, in France 1 in 10 people suffer from a phobia10. Women would be more affected (2 women for 1 man). Finally, some phobias are more common than others and some may affect younger or older people more.

Most common phobias

Spider phobia (arachnophobia)

Phobia of social situations (social phobia)

Air travel phobia (aerodromophobia)

Phobia of open spaces (agoraphobia)

Phobia of confined spaces (claustrophobia)

Phobia of heights (acrophobia)

Water phobia (aquaphobia)

Cancer phobia (cancerophobia)

Storm phobia, storms (cheimophobia)

Death phobia (necrophobia)

Phobia of having heart failure (cardiophobia)

Infrequent phobias

Fruit phobia (carpophobia)

Cat phobia (ailourophobia)

Dog phobia (cynophobia)

Phobia of contamination by microbes (mysophobia)

Childbirth phobia (tokophobia)


According to a study conducted on a sample of 1000 people, aged between 18 and 70, researchers have shown that women are more affected by animal phobia than men. According to this same study, phobias of inanimate objects rather concern the elderly. Finally, the fear of injections seems to decrease with age1.

“Normal” fears during childhood

In children, certain fears are frequent and are part of their normal development. Among the most frequent fears, we can cite: fear of separation, fear of the dark, fear of monsters, fear of small animals, etc.

Often, these fears appear and disappear with age without interfering with the overall well-being of the child. However, if some fears set in over time and have a significant impact on the behavior and well-being of the child, do not hesitate to consult a pediatrician.

Diagnostic


To make the diagnosis of phobia, it is necessary to make sure that the person has a persistent fear of certain situations or certain objects.

The phobic person is terrified of being confronted with the feared situation or object. This fear can quickly become a permanent anxiety that can sometimes develop into a panic attack. This anxiety prompts the phobic person to bypass situations or objects that arouse fear in them, through avoidance and / or reassurance (avoiding an object or asking a person to be present in order to be reassured).

To make the diagnosis of phobia, the healthcare professional can refer to the criteria for the diagnosis of phobia appearing in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - 4th edition) or the ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and related health problems - 10th revision). He can conduct a specific clinical interview to look for signs of a phobia.

Many scales, such as the fear scale (FSS III) or the Marks and Mattews fear questionnaire, are available to doctors and psychologists. They can use them to objectively validate their diagnosis and to assess the intensity of the phobia as well as the repercussions it may have on the patient's daily life.

Causes


Phobia is more than fear, it is a real anxiety disorder. Some phobias develop more easily in childhood, such as anxiety about being separated from a mother (separation anxiety), while others tend to develop in adolescence or adulthood. You should know that a traumatic event or very intense stress can be the cause of the appearance of a phobia.

Simple phobias often develop during childhood. Classic symptoms can start between 4 and 8 years old. Most of the time, they follow an event that the child experiences as unpleasant and stressful. These events include, for example, a medical examination, vaccination or blood test. Children who have been trapped in a closed and dark space following an accident may subsequently develop a phobia of confined spaces, called claustrophobia. Children may also develop a phobia "by learning2" if they come into contact with other phobic people in their family environment. For example, in contact with a family member who is afraid of mice, the child may also develop a fear of mice. Indeed, he will have integrated the idea that we must be afraid of it.

The origin of complex phobias is more difficult to identify. Many factors (neurobiological, genetic, psychological or environmental) seem to play a role in their appearance.

Some studies have shown that the human brain is in a way “preprogrammed” to feel certain fears (snakes, darkness, emptiness, etc.). It would seem that some fears are part of our genetic heritage and it is certainly these that allowed us to survive in the hostile environment (wild animals, natural elements, etc.) in which our ancestors evolved.

Associated disorders


People with a phobia often have other associated psychological disorders such as:

An anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or other phobia.

Depression.

Excessive consumption of substances with anxiolytic properties such as alcohol.

Complications


Suffering from a phobia can become a real handicap for the person who has it. This disorder can have repercussions on the emotional, social and professional life of phobic people. In trying to fight against the anxiety that accompanies the phobia, some people may abuse certain substances with anxiolytic properties such as alcohol and psychotropic drugs. It is also possible that this anxiety evolves into panic attacks or generalized anxiety disorder. In the most dramatic cases, the phobia can also lead some people to suicide.