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Specific & Social Phobias

Anyone can experience a degree of anxiety or unease due to certain situations, demands or reasonable fears, such as spiders, injections, bumpy air flights or giving a public talk. Most individuals find ways to minimize or even avoid what they would prefer not to encounter. 

Specific Phobia

A specific phobia occurs when fears of objects or situations that pose little real danger are overwhelming, unreasonable and persistent, disrupting life in avoiding the cause of that fear. Although individuals may recognize their fear is out of proportion to the actual threat, they remain unable to control their reaction. 

Among the most common anxiety disorders, specific phobias are long lasting, cause intense physical and psychological reactions and can affect the ability to function normally at work, at school or in social settings.

An individual with a specific phobia may experience an anxiety attack when encountering the feared situation or object, as in fainting at the sight of blood and being overwhelmed by a simple dental procedure. 

Read about the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks.

Common specific phobias

  • Situations: airplanes, enclosed spaces, going to school, loud noises, clowns
  • Nature: thunderstorms, heights
  • Animals or insects: dogs, spiders, snakes
  • Physical: needles, accidents, medical procedures, choking
  • Acrophobia: fear of heights
  • Claustrophobia: fear of confined spaces

Social Phobia

In contrast to normal feelings of shyness or discomfort in certain situations, individuals with social phobia fear being scrutinized or judged negatively by others in their daily interactions. Social phobia—more frequently called social anxiety disorder— is a chronic mental health condition. It causes significant anxiety, self-consciousness and avoidance that interferes with relationships, work, school or other routines and activities. Social phobia typically begins in the early to mid-teens, though it can affect younger children or adults.

Not all social unease is a sign of social phobia, particularly in shy or withdrawn children. Comfort levels in social situations vary, depending on personality traits and life experiences. Some people are naturally reserved, while others are more outgoing. 

Avoidance behavior: Individuals with social phobias may find common, everyday experiences hard to endure, for example:

  • Interacting with unfamiliar people or strangers
  • Dating, attending parties or social gatherings
  • Going to work or school
  • Starting conversations
  • Making eye contact
  • Entering a room where people are already seated
  • Returning items to a store
  • Eating in front of others
  • Using a public restroom

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