Anxiety & Mood | Disorders | Feelings | Stress

Feelings – Fear and Phobias

As mentioned in the last post, fear is a powerful, primitive and lifesaving emotion. Fear makes us aware of danger and entails important learning mechanisms. We avoid things we fear based on what we have been through and experienced.

Phobias entails having an avoidant behaviour toward specific situations and items. Usually phobias are developed towards things/situations where there is an evolutionary reason to be apprehensive: spiders when living in a cave can be dangerous, something our ancestors did. There is research showing that even babies are more aroused/anxious when seeing images of spiders than other animals, indicating that we are biologically prewired to fear spiders.

Other examples of feared objects that have a survival value are insects, predators, narrow and open spaces, large crowds, heights, water, germs/diseases, being ridiculed or rejected by the preferred group, illogical constructions like airplanes etc. In fact, this learning mechanism is so strong that there have been identified many different kinds of phobias. lists over 200 types. lists the 10 most common phobias in 2018:

1 Arachnophobia – Fear of spiders

2 Ophidiophobia – Fear of snakes

3 Acrophobia – Fear of heights

4 Agoraphobia – Fear of open or crowded spaces

5 Cynophobia – Fear of dogs

6 Astraphobia – Fear of thunder and lightning

7 Claustrophobia – The fear of small spaces – often elevators

8 Mysophobia – Fear of germs

9 Aerophobia – Fear of flying

10 Trypophobia – Fear of holes

Due to the important survival value of fear, research has shown that fear can never be unlearned. It is burnt into the brain/amygdala forever. The aim should instead to be to manage fears, knowing one’s vulnerability and not letting the fear impact how you live your life and where you want to go.

The most common treatment form is CBT using the technique exposure, which entails relearning that the feared situation, even if uncomfortable, is manageable, see last post under anxiety.

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