A phobia is an intense, irrational, fear caused by the presence, or even the thought, of a particular object or situation. This fear is involuntary and uncontrollable, and sufferers often recognise that it is irrational, and out of proportion to any real danger.
Phobias can affect the sufferer's ability to lead a normal life because it encourages avoidance of the objects or situations that cause the fear. A certain degree of fear is essential to survival, and is a fundamental human instinct, but the effect of phobias can range from minor disruption and annoyance to significant disability.
Although phobias often run in families, it is not known to what degree this may be genetic or learned behaviour. Most phobias are linked to traumatic events or to learned reactions. But because such irrational fears are triggered and controlled by the unconscious mind, treatment with hypnotherapy can be very effective. Only about 20% of phobias in adults go away without treatment.
Types of phobias include:
- animal phobias
- situational phobias (fear of specific situations, such as flying, being in a car or on public transport, driving, going over bridges or in tunnels, or of being in a closed in (lace, like a lift)
- natural environment phobias (such as fear of storms, thunder, heights, or water)
- blood/injection/injury phobias (such as fear of being injured, seeing blood )
- invasive medical procedures, such as blood tests or injections)
- a range of other phobias, including a fear of falling down, a fear of loud sounds, and a fear of costumed characters, such as clowns
Symptoms of specific phobias when faced with the fear, may present as:
- fast breathing (hyperventilation)
- palpitations - the sensation of feeling your heart thumping in your chest
- muscle tension and pains
- sweating, dizziness or feeling faint
- numbness and 'pins and needles'
- 'churning' of your stomach
- avoiding the object or situation, or enduring it with great distress.
- all the physical symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack
- anticipatory anxiety
- children with a specific phobia may express their anxiety by crying, being clingy, or throwing a tantrum.
There are a variety of self-help treatments that may be helpful, including:
- self-help books, CDs/DVDs, support groups, and the support of friends and family
- exposure to your feared object or situation and tolerating the anxiety until it starts to decrease
- relaxation and visualisation techniques
- regular exercise can reduce anxiety and anticipation of the fear
- ensuring a healthy lifestyle
You should always see your doctor first, to ensure proper diagnosis and deal with any underlying medical conditions.
In using hypnotherapy, we would analyse your particular situation and work with you to understand how and why your phobia occurs, so making it easier to identify the issues and find ways to overcome the problem.
One approach that might be used is 'flooding'. This is an alternative form of exposure therapy, based on the fact that the sufferer can't stay anxious indefinitely: 40 minutes is about the most someone will stay in an anxious state. By coping with this and remaining unharmed, sufferers may be able to see that the basis of the phobia is unfounded.
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