We all have things that we are afraid of, these fears are part of our brain's response to the world. But how do we know that we're experiencing a phobia and not a fear?
Well a phobia is actually a type of anxiety disorder, it's an extreme form of fear/anxiety that is triggered by a certain object or situation. This anxiety can even kick in when we talk about these objects or situations.
For example, someone with a phobia of heights may find it really difficult to be high up in planes or tall buildings, whilst someone with a phobia of spiders may find even looking at pictures of spiders distressing.
Phobias can be caused by lots of different things such as past experiences/trauma, learned reactions from childhood and even as a side effect of long-term stress.
So what's the difference between a fear and a phobia?
We all have things we're afraid of and that's perfectly natural, even if those fears seem small or unnecessary. A fear turns into a phobia when the fear is out of proportion to the danger, if it lasts longer than 6 months or if it has a significant impact on someone's day-to-day life.
What can I do if I'm struggling with phobias?
Talk to someone you trust. Like any anxiety, talking about how we feel can help to calm us.
If you find it hard to talk to someone in person, try writing down how you feel in a journalling style activity.
Learn some handy anxiety techniques. Just like any anxiety-inducing situation, there's helpful techniques we can use to calm us down and help us to feel in control of our surroundings. For helpful anxiety techniques, see our blog on How to manage an anxiety attack.(https://www.theyoumattermovement.co.uk/post/how-to-manage-an-anxiety-attack)
Use self-help resources. Millions of people have experienced phobias in their life so there's lots of help out there. Maybe try reading a self-help book on phobias or using online programs/resources to help manage your anxieties.
How do I support someone struggling with a phobia?
Firstly we can try to understand phobias. They're different to fears and we may have never experienced a phobia before, so we should try to understand phobias as well as we can so we can understand what those around us may be experiencing.
Take their phobia seriously. People with phobias can't help how they react to things and can often feel like they're being silly or overreacting, even though they have no control over their extreme reactions. Try to understand how they feel in these moments and do what you can to help this person avoid situations that may trigger these responses.
Support them. Just like any anxiety, phobias can have a significant effect on someone's day-to-day life. Support them in getting help/treatment, whether that's via a doctor, therapist or online. Support their decision and maybe help them look into different options for support.