Anxiety takes many forms. It can appear as obsessive patterns of behavior, irrational fears of objects and situations, or just excessive worry about numerous things. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the five main types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
No matter what shape it takes, anxiety can take a toll on your mental, physical, and psychological wellbeing. That’s because anxiety disorders aren’t a singular condition that can be pinned down and treated, it’s a spectrum of related disorders that can affect each other.
How Do Phobias Fit In Here?
Now that we’ve established that anxiety isn’t just one condition but a multi-faceted one that can rear its head at any time, let’s turn to one of its common forms: phobias.
Derived from the Greek word—phobos—for terror, panic, and fear, phobias refer to irrational and excessive fear reactions to certain stimuli. Phobias can have a lasting impact on you, instilling a feeling of dread regarding certain places, animals, situations, or objects.
It isn’t just when you’re in danger that phobic reactions are triggered, they may appear seemingly out of nowhere too. All that’s needed is the thought or experience of the trigger and the intense fear comes rushing in.
While the specific cause of a phobia is difficult to determine, it can be linked to anxiety-inducing experiences.
Negative & stressful experiences
Some studies suggest that when fear-provoking events are coupled with emotional responses, phobias are born. If, for instance, you get into an automobile accident while driving, you may develop a phobia of driving.
This is because the fear-provoking event—driving—was coupled with the emotional reaction to experiencing the accident. These associations can last with you forever, causing a significant impact on your life and experiences afterward.
However, you don’t always have to experience something to develop a phobia of it. If someone close to you—such as a parent or sibling—has a certain phobia, the chances are that you’ll develop it too.
Beliefs are sometimes modeled after the people we spend the most time with, eventually leading to the internalization of fears they live with. If you have a parent who’s afraid of spiders, you’ll probably grow up being wary of the insect too. Studies look into how social fear transmission can cause an equally-strong reaction as having fears originating from your own experience.
Some research suggests that neither you nor your close family members need to have experienced a phobia-inducing experience to develop this type of anxiety disorder. For some people, this fear is ingrained into their very being.
Evolutionary psychology claims that the fear of animals and certain facial expressions are built into our neural networks due to our ancestors’ experiences. This may explain why you’re afraid of snakes or spiders even when you live in a region where they’re uncommon. Your ancestors’ survival depended on this fear and you’re just acting on that instinct.
Managing Anxiety & Phobias
We’ve established how the development of phobias relies on anxiety-inducing situations or events. Now we can look into how the two affect each other.
While phobias are a sub-category of anxiety disorders, both of them can cause and affect one another, leaving you in a constant cycle of distress and impairment. Specific phobias are an anxious response to triggers that frighten or panic us, so it’s clear that anxiety regarding the perceived danger or harm causes a phobic reaction.
However, phobias exacerbate your anxiety too. The responses may range from mild to severe, but they can take a toll on your psychophysical wellbeing. Some of the common phobic reactions that aggravate your anxiety include:
- Sweaty palms
- Increased heart rate
- Dizziness and nausea
- Chest tightness and pain
- Inability to breathe
For someone who lives with generalized anxiety, these symptoms are all too familiar. Hence, when you experience a phobic response, your anxiety may go into overdrive and result in panic attacks that become harder to manage.
You can cope with these conditions by managing them in conjunction with each other.
Recognizing your triggers
Both generalized anxiety and phobias have specific triggers, realizing what lies at the core of these stress responses is the first step to taking back control. Identify situations or events that make you more prone to anxiety attacks.
For many people, caffeine is a stimulant that triggers their anxiety and they don’t even know it!
Learn some grounding techniques
People living with debilitating phobias often experience panic attacks that are difficult to manage. Even though you may know that your phobic response is irrational, you can’t control the feelings of dread that impact you in full-force.
Managing this anxious reaction by working on grounding techniques will help control how your mind and body deal with phobias. Relaxation techniques and mindfulness meditation are useful at times like this. Some of these include taking deep breaths, acknowledging the time, place, and objects around you, and constantly reassuring yourself that you’re safe.
Try a treatment program
The good news: you don’t have to live with your anxiety and phobias forever. Almost all phobias and anxiety disorders can be treated with effective programs that focus on the root cause of the condition rather than its symptoms.
Gradual exposure and desensitization to things that trigger your phobias are viable ways to cure the underlying issues. This involves taking back control of your life and overcoming fear through the power within you.
Anything is possible—whether it’s conquering the fear of flying or overcoming fear of heights—when you take action to resolve these fears. Anxiety and phobias can leave you paralyzed in fear and numb to the ways they hinder your quality of life. A dedicated treatment plan that provides insight into the condition, suggests effective ways to deal with the symptoms, and helps you identify the causes can transform your life.
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