Phobias are characterised by feelings of fear or anxiety triggered by particular situations or objects. These situations do not cause anxiety to everyone, although it is little help to sufferers in realising that others do not regard the situation as being dangerous or threatening.

Getting lives back on track

Reactions to phobias will often lead to avoidance of the feared situation. These responses can be quite severe and range from a person being initially conscious of their phobia, to it becoming second nature – without them necessarily realising the extent to which it has changed their life. The feared situation may not be avoided entirely, but will trigger anxiety in anticipation of the situation, even before it is encountered, and a sense of enduring it with discomfort.

What are the symptoms associated with phobias?

There are a number of different types of phobias with varying symptoms. Different types of phobias include:

  • Specific phobias
  • Social phobias
  • Agoraphobia

Specific phobias

Specific phobias are restricted to very particular and clearly identified situations. These can include proximity to particular animals, heights, visiting the dentist, needles or the sight of blood. Although the situation is discrete, contact with such a scenario can evoke significant anxiety or even panic attacks, which can be so unpleasant that a fear of the situation occurring can last for a lifetime if it remains untreated.

Social phobias

Social phobias often start in early adulthood. They characteristically involve thoughts of being looked at negatively by others or fear of embarrassment in public. It can be very calcohol addiction quoteommon to have anxiety before public speaking, which is often present to a mild degree in everyone. However, it can become increasingly more severe, leading to avoidance, and developing into a phobia. Sufferers often find it difficult to relate to others and find it hard to make friendships. They tend to constantly go over conversations with others once they have happened, and wonder after an event how they came across to other people and what people thought of them. This can leave them struggling socially outside of the immediate family, with these difficulties impairing the formation of friendships and relationships, and even limiting career development.


Agoraphobia is far greater than a fear of open spaces, which it is often acknowledged as. This encompasses an acute fear of a variety of different, usually very busy situations, complicated by difficulty in escaping from the situation.

Agoraphobia can be easily triggered by queuing situations such as leaving a supermarket, which has the added complication of being a very public scenario. Symptoms can therefore overlap and can include fear of leaving home, entering shops, crowds and public places, or travelling on buses and planes. In severe instances, individuals can avoid leaving their house and become very isolated. Agoraphobia can often be complicated by the fear of something negative happening in public and with its strong link to panic attacks, can often include the fear of fainting or collapsing in public and being helpless and embarrassed.

How Priory can help to treat phobias

Most treatment for phobias involves a variation on what is known as ‘graded exposure’. This involves trying to tackle the fear of a situation by acknowledging how it could be approached, even at first using imagination, before trying to tackle the feared situation in reality.

This involves carefully and systematically learning to face the fear in a gradual and controlled way, thereby reducing the avoidance, which is known to worsen the problem. These techniques may, at first, involve imagining exposure to the feared situation rather than in a real life situation. Before that can be undertaken, it is often necessary to be able to learn techniques for managing symptoms of anxiety and improving coping techniques before the procedure begins.

Priory can offer specific treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based treatments in order to help sufferers overcome phobias. It is also very important to properly assess a phobia as they could form part of a bigger situation involving issues with anxiety and depression, or could be exacerbated by these co-existing conditions.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Phobias, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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Phobic anxiety disorders – anxiety and panic attacks

Many phobias are known as 'phobic anxiety disorders' and in all cases, they involve symptoms of anxiety, but at times, can cause more severe symptoms such as panic attacks. Symptoms of anxiety include a racing heart, palpitations and increased sweating or blushing.

Breathing can become more rapid or shallow and this can lead to hyperventilation symptoms such as tingling or numbness. Anxiety symptoms can, at times, have a profound effect on the whole body, inducing feelings of nausea and even experiences of diarrhoea. Panic attacks are severe manifestations of acute anxiety and can be so unpleasant that sufferers often believe that their life is at risk and that something terrible and threatening is happening to them. Panic attacks can be so distressing that sufferers often vividly remember their first panic attack which can lead to a fear of it happening again and avoidance of potentially provoking situations.

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