How to Overcome Any Phobia

A Detailed Guide to 4 Tried-and-True Methods

A phobia is an ongoing, excessive fear of something specific. This leads to a person either avoiding what they fear, or they experience it but are distressed. Specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder with an intense, ongoing fear of something such as snakes, heights, enclosed places, or other objects or situations. Roughly 12.5% of adults in the United States have a specific phobia at some point.

This article will discuss types of phobias, signs and symptoms of phobias, tips to overcome them, and treatment options.

Phobia vs. Fear

A phobia is more severe than a fear. More specifically, a phobia is an irrational fear that is out of proportion compared to the threat of what is feared. There may be little threat, or even no threat at all, and the person could experience symptoms of anxiety. Fear, on the other hand, is an intense emotion in response to a threat in the moment.

Types of Phobias

There are different types of phobias. Specific phobia is an anxiety disorder that includes five types of phobias. Social phobia is also an anxiety disorder, but it is not classified as one of the five specific phobias.

Types of Specific Phobia

The five types of specific phobias include:

  • Animal type
  • Natural environment type
  • Blood-injection-injury type
  • Situational type
  • Other type

Animal Type

Animal type is a specific phobia. People with this type of phobia have an intense, ongoing fear of animals or insects. Examples include dogs, cats, birds, mice, snakes, butterflies, and spiders.

Natural Environment Type

Natural environment type is a specific phobia. People with this type of phobia have an intense, ongoing fear of objects that make up natural surroundings. Examples include water, heights, lightning, or storms.

Blood-Injection-Injury Type

Blood-injection-injury type is a specific phobia. People with this type of phobia have an intense, ongoing fear of seeing or experiencing injury, blood, or injections. Additional examples are blood draws or medical procedures.

Situational Type

Situational type is a specific phobia. People with this type of phobia have an intense, ongoing fear of certain experiences. Examples include elevators, enclosed places, flying, driving, and public transportation.

Other Type

Other type is a specific phobia. People with this type of phobia have an intense, ongoing fear of something that is not part of one of the other types of specific phobias. Examples include choking, germs or getting sick, time, vomiting, dolls, ghosts, or loud noises.

What About Social Phobia?

Social phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It is a social or performance anxiety that involves self-consciousness and a significant fear of being judged and embarrassed. It is extreme and ongoing, leading to either avoidance or acute distress when in those situations. Social anxiety disorder is another name for this type of phobia.

Signs You May Need to Overcome a Phobia

It is normal to have fears of anything that could be harmful. For example, it is natural and a good thing to be afraid of walking across a street without looking because you could otherwise get hit by a car.

However, some people experience extreme, ongoing fears of objects and situations that are not likely to be harmful, or the fear is out of proportion to the risk level. If phobias are severe enough to cause significant symptoms of anxiety or interfere with daily life, it is a good idea to work to overcome them.

Signs of a Phobia

  • You experience an excessive, irrational fear about a specific object or situation.
  • You take actions to avoid an object or situation that you irrationally or excessively fear.
  • You experience symptoms of anxiety as soon as faced with an object or situation that is irrationally or excessively feared.

Tips to Overcome a Phobia

Tips for Overcoming a Phobia

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Desensitize Yourself

It is possible to become desensitized to a phobia. This means that you can become less and less affected by the phobia over time with safe, controlled exposure. One way to do this is with a fear ladder, which involves exposure that is very small at first and then builds.

For example, if you are afraid of spiders, you may start by looking at pictures of flowers that look like spiders, building to looking at pictures of actual spiders. From there, you may be able to watch videos of spiders and, eventually, be able to see spiders behind glass without a fear response.

Partner Up

Social support plays an important role in physical and mental health, including the process of overcoming phobias. When going through the desensitization or fear ladder steps, it can be helpful to talk with friends and family about it. They can then help by listening, encouraging, and celebrating when each goal has been achieved.

If a friend or a family member has a phobia as well, it can be helpful for both people to overcome them together. It doesn't even have to be the same phobia.

Join a Support Group

In addition to friend and family support, or if friend and family support is not available, it can help to join a support group. A support group is a professional-led group of people that come together to cope with or overcome a problem. In this case, it is a group to overcome a phobia, and the professional leader could provide techniques and support.

Relaxation, Visualization, and Breathing Techniques

Relaxation, visualization, and breathing techniques can be used to help overcome phobias. These techniques can be used during the desensitization process, when encountering what is feared, and even when thinking about possibly encountering the fear in the future. Relaxation techniques may be combined with visualization and breathing techniques.

Treatment

In addition to techniques to overcome phobias, they can be treated with the help of a healthcare professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the primary treatment option for phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is commonly used. One specific method is a type of CBT called exposure therapy that involves confronting the fear in small steps, in a controlled and safe environment.

Medication may also be used along with talk therapy. This type of treatment does not help the person overcome the fear, but it can relieve some of the symptoms. Some examples of medications may include anti-anxiety medications, beta-blockers, and antidepressants.

Summary

A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear that is ongoing and can interfere with daily life or lead to anxiety symptoms. It may be a fear of a specific animal or insect, something in the environment, potential experience, social situation, or something else. There are techniques and treatments to overcome and cope with phobias. Anyone struggling with a severe, ongoing fear should consult a healthcare professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist for support.

A Word From Verywell

Phobias can significantly impact daily life. The thought of overcoming them may also be scary. If you experience a phobia, you are not alone. Help is available. There are ways to cope with and overcome phobias. Reach out to a healthcare professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, for support.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes phobias?

    A phobia is caused by a person perceiving something as a threat, even when it is not a threat. Stress hormones are released and there is a fight-or-flight response, with symptoms such as increased heart rate and breathing and sweating. This can lead the person to fight, flee, or freeze.

  • What does a phobia feel like?

    A person experiencing a phobia may feel like they are having anxiety or a panic attack, or they may get dizzy or feel hot flashes or chills, chest pain or tightness, and butterflies in the stomach. They also may have difficulty breathing or feel nauseated, numb, confused, or disoriented.

  • Does anxiety cause phobia or does phobia cause anxiety?

    Social phobia and specific phobia are types of anxiety disorders. Encountering what is feared can cause symptoms of anxiety. Phobias and other anxiety disorders can be comorbid, meaning they occur together. For example, the same person may have generalized anxiety disorder (experiencing excessive anxiety or worry about everyday events) and social phobia.

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