According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 18% of Americans are affected by anxiety disorders or phobias. Phobias symptoms are very real to the people who experience them, even if their fears are unfounded by others. They also say that the average age for the start of symptoms can be as young as seven years of age for some phobias. What is a phobia? Who can be affected? How is it treated? Does bullying cause phobias? Where do I get help if I feel like I have symptoms of a phobia? These questions are explored, and contact information is listed below. So what is a Phobia Definition?
A phobia definition given by the Mayo Clinic is, “an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.” Although there may be no reason for the fear, it is very real to the person experiencing it at the time. Phobias are a bit complex until the person understands “why” they are afraid of something. For instance, a person who is afraid of snakes may not remember a traumatic childhood event that causes their current fear. Once a person receives therapy to help them uncover why they are afraid of something, it usually helps them learn to face their fear and overcome it in the future. Without help, a phobia can turn into panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and depression.
Psychology.About.com suggests that there are three general types of phobias, social phobias, agoraphobia, and specific phobias. Specific phobias have four different categories, environmental, natural, medical, and situational phobias. Social phobias deal with interaction with people like doctors, strangers, and policemen. Agoraphobia is a fear of going strange places or getting into fearful situations in any open space or because of leaving the safety of home. Specific phobias are when a person is afraid of a particular thing like bees, bridges, lightning, or dogs.
The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) produces and conducts scientific research about phobias, panic disorders, and other mental health issues. NIMH says that, “…bullying lingers well into adulthood. Bullies and victims alike are at risk for psychiatric problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide when they become adults.”
Phobias can manifest themselves in many ways.
- sweaty palms
- body sweats
- unexplained fear
- trembling hands
- shaky knees
- chest pain (possibly severe)
- general discomfort
- feelings of depression
- upset stomach
Some people have even been thought to suffer a heart attack because of their painful symptoms during an anxiety attack. These attacks can frequently happen to some people. NIMH says, “Victims (of bullying) report the greatest anxiety problems. They might become successful people later on, but they still think about the event and hold onto it.” This means that the general phobia definition can be linked to bullying as one possible cause of phobia’s and anxiety disorders.
Panic attacks can last for a few minutes or more. They can also repeatedly happen and without warning. The person suffering the attack feels helpless and lost although they usually say they agree that there is no logical reason for their fears. This can interfere with daily activities like grocery shopping, working, or attending school. People who have experienced a panic attack have a deep feeling of fright about the possibility of having another one.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that people who experience frequent or life-altering anxiety attacks seek the treatment of their family doctor or a licensed psychologist. There is evidence in prior studies that proves psychological treatment, medications, meditation, and other behavior modifying therapies are helpful to people who suffer some type of anxiety disorder or phobia. Recent imaging studies have shown an exaggerated response to negative comments and excessive fear on the part of people who are diagnosed with a phobia or anxiety disorder.
Bullying and phobias
Recent studies have also shown that bullying is directly linked to a power struggle and singling out loners in agreement with NIMH findings. According to NIMH, “… (bullying) can take on various forms—primarily verbal, emotional, and physical, although cyberbullying is also on the rise. Children are said to react the same way as adults as well as through throwing temper tantrums, crying, and clinging to parents. NIMH says, “A large number of people express lasting effects decades after their childhood experiences.”
How can parents help their children if they feel they are showing signs of phobia or panic disorder? Parents can help in a number of ways.
- talking to children
- listening to their feelings
- scheduling a doctor’s appointment
- comforting children
- understand the fear is real
- teach the child to meditate, do yoga, or other soothing remedies
- keep a log of the child’s symptoms
- record frequency of panic attacks
- encourage children to write down feelings or to draw them out
- contact school counselor and teachers
- track symptom triggers
- read about phobias with the child
The Mayo clinic suggests a possible genetic or learned connection between parents and children. If parents are showing the same signs or if the child is being bullied and presents symptoms of bullying, they should see a doctor. A family doctor can recommend the right specialist and instruct parents about possible treatments available for children. If parents feel they have symptoms like their child, and it disrupts daily life on a regular basis, they are encouraged to talk to their family physician. Family counseling is helpful in these situations.
- relatives with a phobia
- life altering events
The Mayo clinic says that social and specific phobias show up before teenage years. Agoraphobia shows up before middle age. They agree that the people most likely to be at risk for social disorders are those under the age of 13 as well as those under 35.
Children have to be treated differently than adults because they are still growing, and they have different needs than adults. Family physicians are trained to deal with a lot of conditions. They will refer people to specialists like counselors, sociologists, and psychologists depending on the situation. They also seem to bounce back faster than adults with proper treatment.
NIMH says, “Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.” Psychotherapy teaches people different ways to look at their panic triggers and how to manage their fears when they confront their fears. Medication to treat panic attacks and those that help with depression are commonly given to anxiety sufferers. There are several types of medications that doctors can prescribe to help alleviate symptoms.
It is important to remember that even though a fear or anxiety may seem unrealistic to others, it is very real to the person experience panic and anxiety symptoms. People suffering from symptoms should always be treated by a licensed physician or mental health professional. Ignoring the symptoms or using home remedies does not work for people who suffer from phobias. Also, people who have been victims or are victims of bullying should always be monitored for anxiety and panic attacks because they are at the highest risk of developing these disorders.
If someone you know or if you are experiencing bullying, symptoms of phobia, or have anxiety on a regular basis, you should seek professional help. You are not alone! There are others who have been in your position, who have felt helpless, that they are crazy, or that there is no reason for the feelings they are experiencing. NIMH says that any of the following people can help people who are suffering from anxiety symptoms
- Family doctors
- Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
- Religious leaders/counselors
- Health maintenance organizations
- Community mental health centers
- Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
- University- or medical school-affiliated programs
- State hospital outpatient clinics
- Social service agencies
- Private clinics and facilities
- Employee assistance programs
- Local medical and psychiatric societies
Where to find more information
The Mayo Clinic
13400 E. Shea Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85259
National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)
6001 Executive Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20852
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
8701 Georgia Ave., Suite #412
Silver Spring, MD 20910
American Psychological Association
750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)
11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
Leawood, KS 66211-2680