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Spotlight on Phobia Symptoms

written by: Dr. Jerry Kennard • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/6/2012

Phobia symptoms may vary in severity but they always involve physiological and psychological aspects. This article explores the symptoms associated with the main categories of phobia; agoraphobia, social phobia and specific phobias.

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    The Nature of Phobias

    A phobia is a strong, persistent, and unwarranted fear of some specific object or situation. The consequence for the person if confronted by the object of fear is extreme anxiety or panic attacks. The person has insight into their situation and they understand their reactions are extreme. Phobia symptoms are so incapacitating that they invariably interfere with the individual’s life and often cause disruption to others. Phobias are the most common mental disorder in the United States.

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    Agoraphobia Symptoms

    Agoraphobia is one of three subcategories of phobia; the others being social phobias and specific phobias. Many people experience panic attacks before going on to develop agoraphobia. The person with agoraphobia symptoms has an intense fear of being in social situations where escape or help is not readily available. Panic-like symptoms such as the fear of fainting, or losing control over bodily functions, or of displaying excessive fear in public are prominent.

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    Social Phobia

    Social phobias derive from an intense fear of being judged or evaluated in social situations. Phobia symptoms in social situations are an intense anxiety reaction or panic attack. As with other phobias, the person affected is fully aware of their fears and the irrational nature of them. Despite this they appear to have a bias in interpreting reactions to them as negative.

    Social phobias and agoraphobia are considered complex phobias partly because they often involve a series of interlinked phobias and partly because they have such a disruptive effect on people’s lives. The sense of vulnerability felt by people with social phobia is so strong that it effectively rules out most forms of social contact. In some extreme cases the phobia symptoms are such that the person will not leave their home.

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    Specific Phobias

    Most people can relate in some fashion to one or more specific phobias. A specific phobia is an intense fear of either an object or a situation. When the person is exposed to the object or situation of fear, phobia symptoms of intense anxiety or panic attack develop. Specific phobias are classified into animal, natural environmental, blood/injections, situational and other. The unique quality of blood phobia is that it is directly associated with fainting. Around 70 percent of people with blood phobia have a history of fainting in the presence of blood.

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    Symptoms Common to all Phobias

    The single common factor associated with all phobias is anxiety. The symptoms associated with intense levels of anxiety are physiological and psychological. Some of the more common physiological symptoms include raised heart and breathing rate, sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the throat and chest and nausea. Psychological symptoms include, a fear of fainting or of losing control, fear of dying and a sense of disorientation and confusion. The most common way people cope with their phobia is to avoid the situation or circumstances that cause their anxiety.

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    David Sue., Derald Wing Sue., & Stanley Sue (2000) Understanding Abnormal Behavior (6th ed.). Houghton Mifflin.

    Stanley Rachman (2002) Anxiety (2nd ed.). Psychology Press.