A phobia is an irrational fear that is so strong that it induces enormous anxiety or panic (often a panic attack too) and a strong desire to avoid encountering the feared creature, circumstance or substance. If you suffer from a phobia you will probably be aware that your fear is unwarranted, unreasonable and totally out of proportion to the situation, but you are unable to control it, and so it gets in the way of your living a normal life. Some phobias can make life miserable.
It is possible to develop a phobia about absolutely anything. Indeed, the existence of technical names for obscure ones - such as stasiphobia (standing upright), siderophobia (stars), ommatophobia (eyes) and nephophobia (clouds), to mention just a few - suggests that at least some people at some time have developed phobias about the most unlikely things. However, the most common ones, besides agoraphobia and claustrophobia, are fear of spiders, snakes, worms, flying, heights and various social phobias (which we'll look at separately in a moment). Other not uncommon ones include bird feathers, blood and injections. More than one in 10 people suffer from a phobia at some time, and women are twice as likely to do so as men.
As might be expected from what we have covered so far, people can develop phobic responses to any situation, animal or substance associated (consciously or not) with a circumstance in which they have previously experienced acute panic - the amygdala in action again. Jenny, for instance, could quite easily have developed a phobia about pink coats. Someone else might develop a phobia about grass if they were in a newly mown garden the first time they experienced " It doesn't matter if you have no idea where your original terror came from. " a panic attack.
Sometimes the fear is quite understandable at the start. A child is set upon by an aggressive dog, perhaps. But then this develops into a fear of all dogs and may even widen so that the person is frightened of seeing dogs on the television or even pictures of them in books or magazines. Sometimes children learn their fears from their parents. If your mother screamed and hid every time there was a clap of thunder or stood on the table screeching if a daddy long-legs crossed the floor, it is little surprise if you develop a fear of thunderstorms and creepy-crawlies too.
Maybe you have no idea where your terror came from. The good news is, it doesn't matter. All that is important is that the learned association between the thing and the fear is broken. This can be easily done. We show you, in Part 2, what you can do to break it and also, in Part 3, how a therapist can help you to do it, quickly and painlessly.