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Phobias & Panic Disorders


A phobia is an uncontrollable, irrational and lasting fear and/or avoidance of objects, situations or activities—out of proportion to any actual danger. Some individuals may experience anxiety attacks when encountering the source of their fear. In fact, phobic fear can be so overwhelming that a person may go to great lengths to avoid this source, which in turn can seriously disrupt their daily life.

Read here for the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks.

Research suggests both genetic and environmental factors contribute to causing phobias. Certain fears have been linked to a terrifying first encounter with an object or situation. While they can happen in early childhood, phobias mostly first appear in ages 15-20. Other data show phobias:

  • Are the most widespread of all mental disorders, with 10-30% of the population reporting a fear severe enough to disturb some functioning. 
  • Seem to afflict women somewhat more often and more intensely than men, though men are more likely to seek treatment. 
  • Frequently co-occur with chronic anxiety and depression.
  • Can trigger a fight-or-flight response

About 19 million Americans have one or more phobias that range from mild to severe. Read more about a recent study’s findings on the diversity of phobias with respect to sex and age distribution. 

Signs and symptoms of phobias

Depending on the nature of the fear, signs or symptoms of phobias can vary widely:

Emotional and behavioral symptoms

        • Fear of any situation that might trigger a panic attack
        • Worry about being embarrassed, humiliated or judged
        • Intense fear of talking to strangers or being the center of attention
        • Identifying and analyzing flaws in one’s own actions or behaviors

Physical symptoms

        • Sudden blushing, trembling or chills
        • Fast heartbeat, chest pain or pressure
        • Excessive sweating
        • Upset stomach or nausea
        • Trouble breathing or a feeling of choking
        • Dizziness or lightheadedness
        • Feeling numb, tingling or muscle tension

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