The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM) identifies Phobia as unreasonable, excessive fear: The person exhibits excessive or unreasonable, persistent and intense fear triggered by a specific object or situation.
When a person has a phobia, they will often shape their lives to avoid what they consider to be dangerous. The imagined threat is greater than any actual threat posed by the cause of terror. Despite the fact that the person understands their fear is irrational, they cannot control their fear or reaction to it. The person will experience intense distress when faced with the source of their phobia. This can prevent them from functioning normally and sometimes leads to panic attacks. Physical symptoms often include, sweating, chest pain, shaking, limbs feeling pins and needles.
People often develop phobias after experiencing a stressful or dangerous life event involving the trigger or having a parent or family member with a phobia where the child learns to become triggered. It is rare for a person to develop a phobia after the age of 30.
There are three types of phobia, specific (a specific fear or trigger), social (profound fear of humiliation in social situations), and agoraphobia (fear of situations in which it would be difficult to escape). Specific phobia is known as a simple phobia because a direct trigger can be identified and avoided. Both social and agoraphobia are known as complex phobias due to the fact that they are difficult to identify and may be more difficult to avoid triggers and treat.
Treatment for phobia includes cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and exposure therapy. Exposure therapy allows people with phobia to experience their fear in safe situations and work through the fear slowly.
Panic attacks are characterized by an intense onset of fear that reaches a peak within minutes. The panic symptoms appear in relation to a perceived threat rather than imminent danger. Panic attacks include at least four of the following physical and cognitive symptoms:
Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking sensations, shortness of breath, smothering feelings, feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort, chills, numbness or tingling, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint.
Feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization) fear of losing control or going crazy, fear of dying.
Panic attacks are usually random and cannot be predicted. Typically, panic attacks last less than ten minutes. Over time, many who suffer panic attacks develop an on-going fear of having another attack. This fear can severely hamper daily activities and overall quality of life. Some people refuse to leave their houses or to put themselves in situations that remind them of their previous attacks.
Fortunately, panic attacks are treatable. Often people who suffer from panic attacks find cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and certain lifestyle and dietary changes beneficial to avoiding or treating panic attacks.
Many people have been able to learn how to stop or reduce the intensity of panic attacks by using mindfulness strategies, deep breathing, visualization, muscle relaxation, and meditation.