You may have what is called phobia if you are so scared of something that you do everything to avoid it. For example, there may be certain animals, places or situations. If your phobia has started to limit you in life, you may need to seek help. There are treatments that help.

This article is about adult phobias. For the anxiety and phobias of children and teenagers, you as a  parent or guardian can read more here.

You are aged 13 to 25 years can read more about anxiety 

What is a phobia?

Most people have something they feel a very strong fear of. Fear varies from worry or severe discomfort to panic-stricken fear and anxiety. Phobias are actually called specific phobias since fear is often about a certain thing, place or phenomenon.

For example, common phobias are to be afraid of any of the following:

  • Animals such as snakes, spiders, birds, rats or dogs.
  • Some environments such as high altitudes, deep water or thunderstorms.
  • Some places such as lifts or aircraft.
  • Blood, blood tests, injections, injuries or surgeries.
  • To vomit, put in the throat or get any disease.

Often, the degree of fear is disproportionate to how dangerous what you are afraid of really is. Feeling uncomfortable with something is not the same as having a phobia.

Not all phobias need to be treated

Not all phobias need treatment. You decide for yourself if your phobia is an obstacle for you to live the life you want.

The more you avoid what scares you, the stronger the fear becomes. Over time, this may cause you to avoid certain situations or places. For example, if you have dog phobia, you can start to avoid all the parks or forest areas for fear of encountering a dog.

If you have spray fear you may feel so much resistance that you dare not seek care for fear of getting syringes or having to have blood tests. Then you may need to seek help in healthcare.

Symptoms of phobia

When you have a phobia, you get strong symptoms when you are in contact with what you are afraid of. Only the thought of what you are afraid of can trigger symptoms. The symptoms you get may vary depending on the phobia, and may also differ from person to person.

You may have any of the following symptoms of phobias if you have a phobia and come into contact with what you are afraid of:

  • Panic anxiety, ie strong anxiety that comes suddenly.
  • Palpitations or chest pressure.
  • Hard to breathe.
  • Dry mouth, nausea or dizziness.
  • Sweating, tremors or weakness of the muscles.

The symptoms are because of more stress hormones than you normally get into your blood when you are scared, which causes your blood pressure to rise. 

A special and different reaction can occur in blood phobia. Upon contact with blood, blood pressure may first increase and then decrease. When it drops you can become cold sweaty and you can even faint.

When should I seek care?

Seek help if you experience such a strong fear of various things or situations that it affects and limits your life. This also applies if you try to relieve your symptoms of phobias with alcohol, drugs or by hurting yourself. 

Contact a  health care center or a psychiatric outpatient clinic. You can contact many receptions by logging in here.

You who are young

You who are under 25 can contact a  youth reception. Depending on where in the country you live, it may vary.

What can I do for myself?

Learn more about anxiety and phobias. For example, you can read books, articles or listen to podcasts. Learning more can also be a preparation for seeking help.

Do not avoid what you are afraid of, but try to approach it gradually. Talking to someone you trust can help.

Sometimes you may want to talk to someone you don’t know, or need to meet in real life. Here is a list of chat and phone calls that you can contact, anonymously if you wish and free of charge.

Physical exercise and relaxation, such as exercises in mindfulness, can also help you feel better and more easily manage stress and anxiety.

Treatment of phobias

Phobias are usually treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, KBT. In therapy, you get close to what you are afraid of and eventually get rid of your phobia. This method is called exposure and is an important part of any treatment of anxiety. 

First, you set goals for the treatment of phobias, for example being able to handle different situations that you are afraid of. Then the treatment can begin.

Practice staying in the situation

First, you get to rate your levels of anxiety. Most often you start with a situation that you find difficult to handle. Gradually, the challenge increases, allowing you to practice coping with increasingly difficult situations. 

The treatment of phobias is that you step by step, and with the support of the therapist, put yourself in the various situations and practice to stay there. In this way, you get new experiences of the situation and learn to deal with fear. 

It varies how long it takes to go through the treatment. Sometimes it can take a few months, but there are also short treatments. For example, there is something called 1-session therapy, which helps with the phobia. After an assessment call, treatment is performed on one to three occasions. Each occasion lasts two to three hours.

The goal of the treatment of phobias is that you no longer feel limited by fear. You may still feel tense in contact with what the phobia was about, but not so much that you feel compelled to avoid the fear.

What is the cause of phobias?

You may have a certain innate sensitivity that makes you more likely to develop a phobia. A scary event associated with a particular thing can then cause you to develop a phobia against it.

It seems easier to develop phobias against things that have been a danger at all times, such as insects, snakes, and high altitudes. On the other hand, it is uncommon for the phobia to apply to modern, dangerous things like cars or weapons.

As an adult, you can usually understand for yourself that fear is disproportionate, but phobia can nevertheless become a clear obstacle in everyday life.

Another explanation is that it is a learned fear. By avoiding what you are afraid of, the fear remains, as you are not given the opportunity to notice that it was harmless. The avoidance causes the fear to remain.

Often, fears can be learned indirectly by seeing how others behave. A common example is when a child sees the parent being scared when, for example, they see a snake.

Advice to related parties

As a relative of someone who has a phobia, you can feel worried or frustrated and not know what to do. Then it can be good if you learn more about phobias and what helps. For example, you can read books or articles, watch movies or listen to podcasts.

You may need to encourage anyone with a phobia to seek care. You can seek support from others in the same situation, for example in a support organization such as Ångestförbundet ÅSS, or  Anhöriga’s national association.

Ehtisham Nadeem

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