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Being careful and cautious is a behavior that protects us humans from dangers. If caution turns into disproportionate fear and to efforts to avoid the fear that hinders the life you want to live, it may be a matter of specific phobia. Specific phobias are disproportionate and unrealistic fears of certain issues, objects or situations.

Specific phobia manifests itself as strong situational anxiety and a desire to avoid the fear, which leads to avoidance and becomes an obstacle in life. Specific phobias are often associated with, for example, heights, closed spaces, darkness, certain animals, seeing blood or flying.

Specific phobias are relatively common anxiety disorders. They are more common among women than men. Most people with specific phobias are afraid of more than one phenomenon.

The origins of specific phobia

People suffering from phobias usually know their fears are unfounded but cannot control them. The fears are usually based on possible, yet unlikely, danger. For example, there is a theoretical risk in flying or using a lift but avoiding these because of a phobia makes life unnecessarily complicated.

There are various reasons for developing a phobia. The foundation is often laid during adolescence and biological factors can also play a role. A shocking event in childhood can sow the seeds of a specific phobia of adulthood. Biological factors may play a part, as well. Phobias have a tendency to run in the family; nevertheless, one cannot say for sure whether this is the result of nature or nurture.

Help is available for specific phobias

Avoiding what triggers the fear can relieve the symptoms in the short term, but in the long run avoidance will strengthen the phobia which can develop into a obstacle in life. Self-management of specific phobias is based on voluntary and conscious exposure to the object of fear of and by learning techniques for relaxation and control of anxiety.

There is reason to seek professional help if the phobia limits life and impairs quality of life. Phobias are mainly treated with behavioral therapy based on exposure, ie by being exposed to the dreaded phenomenon in a controlled manner. Exposure has given good results, and most people who suffer from specific phobias can be cured completely or partially. The psychotherapy is based on gradual learning to endure the dreaded phenomenon under professional supervision. This is done by evoking mental images of what one is afraid of, with computer-simulated virtual reality or through exercises in real life.

Fact check: Kristian Wahlbeck, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry