Phobias | Angela Zhang

Phobias

By Angela Zhang

In psychology, a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 10 million adults in the United States suffer from some sort of phobia. These exaggerated fears--whether of spiders, needles, snakes, clowns, social situations or even public spaces can become all-consuming that they interfere with daily life.

Acrophobia is the fear of heights. It is one of several context-dependent specific phobias and is also one of the most common phobias. Heights are a reasonable danger for people to fear, and the fear of heights helps prevent people from taking unnecessary risks. According to the American Phycological Association, phobias are caused by early traumatic experiences. In the case of acrophobia, these experiences might include falling from a tree or witnessing someone get hurt from falling from a high place. Therapy can be extremely effective for phobias, including acrophobia. Gradual desensitization, during which someone is exposed progressively to their phobia, is particularly useful. 

The social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious, such as blushing, being viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring. As a result, they often avoid social or performance situations, and when a situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety disorder affects approximately 15 million American adults and is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder following specific phobia. The average age of onset for social anxiety disorder is during the teenage years. Despite the availability of effective treatments, fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety disorder seek treatment in the year following initial onset and more than a third of people report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.

Besides common phobias, weird and strange phobias also exist. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliphobia is the fear of long words. People often considered this a jocular or fictional phobia; however, that is not the case and long words phobia is actually real and does exist. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia can actually be broken down into several parts: Hippo- is ‘horse’ in Greek and potam-os is river. Thus, the first part of the word refers to a water horse also known as Hippopotamus. According to the Oxford Dictionary, Hippopotamine is referred to “something very large”. The word “monstr” is the Latin origin of a ‘monstrous being” or something huge and terrifying. Lastly, sesquippedalio is derived from Latin sesquippedali meaning ‘measuring a foot and a half long.’ Most specific phobias, including the fear of long words phobia, are caused by an event that is recorded by parts of the brain, usually the amygdala or hippocampus as dangerous or deadly.  A person with severe Hippopotomostrosesquidaliphobia is literally held a prisoner by his or her’s feelings of entirety and panic when he or she experiences sight of long words. 

President Roosevelt, in his famous inaugural speech, stated that “the only thing we fear is fear itself”. For some individuals, this line actually rings true: they fear becoming anxious or getting extremely overwhelmed at the thought of allowing themselves to become afraid of an object or situation. The fear of fear is defined as Phobophobia. Phobophobia is a very self-limiting and self-replicating phobia. The sufferer might already have one or more existing phobias but continues to fear developing more. 

However, the converse is also true: a person may not have any established phobia but may continue to develop a fear of getting one that entail curtailing his or her daily lives. 

Psychologist Nick Haslam says that nothing in one’s external environment triggers such a phobia; it is usually only the internal thought processes that stimulate it. But an initial sensitizing event can be considered the root cause of most phobias. This is the point from which the person’s mind sits on a sensitive time bomb, waiting for further symptom-producing events to take place. Therefore, the cause of the fear of fear phobia becomes the key of its treatment. 

Many types of phobias exist throughout civilization globally.  People are more willingly to discuss their phobias in the present time than many years ago. Some of these phobias are common and easy to cure, while others may be bizarre and requires longer treatments.