What is a Specific Phobia?

A specific phobia is an irrational fear in response to a specific object, situation or place. Individuals with a Specific Phobia experience heightened levels of anxiety in anticipation of or upon exposure to the feared stimulus. These anxious reactions tend to include intense physical reactions such as rapid breathing, a racing heart, sweating, and an inability to concentrate on other tasks. Some individuals experience panic attacks upon exposure to their phobic stimulus.

What are some of the common Specific Phobias?

Specific phobias can be broken down into five main subgroups:

  • Animal Phobias e.g. snakes, toads, birds, spiders
  • Situational Phobias e.g. flying, bridges, tunnels, elevators
  • Natural Environment Phobias e.g. storms, water, heights
  • Blood Injection Injury Phobias e.g. needles, blood tests, seeing blood, certain medical procedures
  • Other Phobias e.g. fear of vomiting, inanimate objects, fear of choking

Symptom Checklist

  • Do you feel overly nervous within a certain situation, when you observe or even when you think about a certain object or activity?
  • Do you actively try to avoid such feared objects or situations? For example, avoiding going to certain places where your feared object may be present, or change your lifestyle in some way to avoid coming into contact with your feared object/situation?
  • Does the distress or avoidance negatively impact on your life in some way?

How common are Specific Phobias?

Research indicates that Specific Phobias are diagnosed in approximately 11% of the Australian population, and this is likely to be an under-estimate of actual cases.

Specific Phobias can occur at any age, though they tend to develop during childhood or early adolescence. Of all the Anxiety Disorders, children are most likely to be diagnosed with a Specific Phobia and they are less likely to recognise their fears as irrational. If left untreated, Specific Phobias tend to worsen overtime as individual’s fears become more entrenched and their avoidance generalises.

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