Fear is a natural response to danger that prepares the body to either confront the source of peril or flee to a safe distance.
Our bodies are finely attuned to danger and when we perceive a threat the physiological reactions can be extreme – the heart rate increases, blood pressure becomes raised, muscles tense and perspiration increases.
All of these reactions help us to take evasive action to avoid physical harm, but sometimes the perception of fear can become exaggerated, dysfunctional or irrational, and in extreme cases this can have debilitating effects on a person’s ability to function in everyday life. This is known as a phobia.
In medical science, phobias are considered a form of anxiety disorder and are subdivided into social phobias, in which people fear interacting with other people; specific phobias, such as an extreme fear of heights, flying, or specific animals; and general agoraphobia, in which sufferers have a fear of leaving their house or a specific area in which they feel comfortable.
Often, people who have a phobia are able to function normally simply by avoiding the thing that triggers their fear. However, in some cases, particularly with social anxiety and agoraphobia, the phobia can prevent them from fulfilling normal daily activities such as going to work, traveling and socializing.
In these cases it is very important for the sufferer to seek professional help, and, fortunately, there are very effective treatments available that can alleviate the phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help sufferers to confront the underlying causes of their phobias, while medications can prove extremely effective at addressing social phobias.
If you suffer from a phobia, the first thing to do is contact your family physician who will be able to refer you to a specialist and put you on the right track to conquering your fears.