Nothing to fear but fear itself...

Mary once had a panic attack on a plane. Ever since, her life has been characterised by a paralyzing terror that she can have a panic attack in a place or situation from where there is no escape or accesible help. Consequently, she confines herself to her home and often makes complicated plans in order to avoid feared places.

 

A phobia is a persistent and irrational fear of a particular object, animal, activity, or situation. The most common phobias are fear of animal (usually spiders, snakes, mice) flying, heights, water, injections, public transportation, confined spaces (claustrophobia), dentists, storms, tunnels and bridges. When confronting the object of their fear the person may experience sweating, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat and other panicky feelings.

 

In most cases, people can avoid or at least endure phobic situations. However, certain phobias like agoraphobia (fear of being in open or public areas) and social phobia can be debilitating.

Take the case of Kostas, who attended his first session with me with considerable trepidation because he feels extremely self-conscious around strangers.

 

This form of social phobia typically involves the fear of being humiliated in front of other people.

Kostas suffers from extreme shyness and discomfort in social settings and avoids attending parties. As a result, this impairs him socially and professionally because he opts out of parties where professional relationships are formed and sealed.

 

As with any other anxiety disorder, Kostas and other people with phobias have a biological vulnerability to stress.

 

Treatment with behavioral therapy is essential.

 

In this case, for example, Kostas might be asked to go to a store, buy an item and then return the item the next day. As he would be performing this action, Kostas would practice observing thoughts, feelings and unrealistic fears triggered by this event.

 

Another method is systematic desensitization, which employs relaxation training and composing a list prioritizing anxiety-inducing situations by degree of fear. Then the person is asked to confront each item on the list, starting with the least stressful and gradually adding resistance to fear..

 

There is also exposure and response treatment, which purposefully generates anxiety by exposing the patient repeatedly to the feared object or situation, either literally or using imagination and visualization, in a controlled environment. This method uses the most fearful stimulus first.

 

Other forms of psychotherapy and anxiety management techniques may be used in order to fight the gamut of anxiety symptoms, from the mildly embarrassing to the most persistent and incapacitating.