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Anxiety

Specific Phobias

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
04-Apr-2005

Table of Contents

Many people experience specific phobias, intense, irrational fears of certain things or situations--dogs, closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, and injuries involving blood are a few of the more common ones. Phobias aren't just extreme fear; they are irrational fear. You may be able to ski the world's tallest mountains with ease but panic going above the 10th floor of an office building. Adults with phobias realize their fears are irrational, but often facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.

Specific phobias strike more than 1 in 10 people. No one knows just what causes them, though they seem to run in families and are a little more prevalent in women. Phobias usually first appear in adolescence or adulthood. They start suddenly and tend to be more persistent than childhood phobias; only about 20 percent of adult phobias vanish on their own. 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 hang on in some people and disappear in others.

Specific Symptoms of Specific Phobias:

Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).

Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed Panic Attack. (In children, the anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging.)

For adults, the person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.

The phobic situation or situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress.

The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared situation(s) interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.

In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.

The anxiety, Panic Attacks, or phobic avoidance associated with the specific object or situation are not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2013
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