Subduing phobia

by | October 18, 2012

Do you have a phobia that you wish to overcome? Let’s embark on a journey to explore the difference between normal fears and phobias as well as methods to help you make yours a past tense!


A fear of snakes.

Almost everyone fears something in their lives. Whether they have overcome it or are still struggling to do so, we often link them to having a pathological fear called phobia. Although common, it has nothing to do with supernatural powers, but rather, it is defined as an intense irrational fear that one has developed towards a specific object, activity or situation that compels one to avoid it. It can cause one to be overly anxious to the point of experiencing a panic attack and even limiting one’s lifestyle to a great extent.


Normal fears vs phobias

Not all fears are bad. Normal fears serve to protect us from dangerous situations and keep our minds and bodies alert to react quickly and protect ourselves from harm. However, phobias are greatly magnified or exaggerated threats that are irrational or non-existent.

Having a phobia towards something doesn’t mean you are crazy. Here are some examples to better differentiate the two:


Normal fear




Feeling a little nervous when receiving an injection or when your blood is being drawn.


Avoiding necessary medical treatments or medical checkups because you are terrified of needles.


Feeling anxious when flying through turbulence or a thunderstorm.


Refusing to travel to another country for a holiday because it requires you to fly there by an airplane.


Experiencing butterflies in the stomach when peering down from the top of a skyscraper or climbing a tall ladder.


Turning down a great job offer because it is located on the 25th floor of the office building.


Becoming intensely anxious when you see a snake.


Keeping clear of the zoo or park because you think you might see one.



Types of phobias

According to Dr Salman Kazim, a specialist in Psychiatry and a consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre, phobias are anxiety disorders and there are primarily three types – social phobia, specific phobia and agoraphobia. He explained more in the following:

  1. Social phobia – This type of phobia works at a person’s fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in one or more social situations especially with unfamiliar people or being scrutinized closely.
  2.  Specific phobia – It is a type of phobia that is defined as having a persistent and intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as worms, snakes, clowns or thunderstorms. In children, this type of phobia does not apply to those who are not mature enough to recognise that their fear is unreasonable.
  3.  Agoraphobia – It is a fear in which the affected person feels trapped in a situation from which he or she perceives that escape may be difficult or impossible. These people are afraid or large crowds, enclosed spaces and heights. For example, people who are afraid of enclosed spaces will deliberately avoid large crowds, standing in queues, or travelling on public transports. In severe cases, they may find it hard to feel safe in any public place and may refuse to leave the house.


Exiting from phobias

A fear of crowds.

According to Dr Kazim, regardless the extent of your phobia, it can be treated. Medications or behaviourial therapy are usually used. The goal of either treatment is to help you reduce your anxiety towards the object or situation so that you can better manage your reactions towards it.

 • Medication

The types of medication include:

  • Beta blockers – They work by blocking the stimulating effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine that cause flight and fright reaction.
  • Antidepressants – An example is the serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors that block the reuptake of neurotransmitter serotonin in the human brain, which is believed to influence one’s mood.
  • Anxiolytics – These agents greatly reduce the amount of anxiety felt in a stressful situation.

• Behaviourial therapy

This type of therapy may be beneficial in treating specific phobias. The focus is to change the patient’s response to the object or situation that he fears; causing him to overcome his anxiety gradually. For example, if one has a crowd phobia, the therapy could involve replaying images of a large crowd to the patient until he becomes bored, and eventually progresses to bringing the patient to a crowded place.

 “It is possible to overcome any fear as long as the patient is motivated to get well,” commented Dr Kazim.


(** The story first appeared in Raffles Hospital – HealthNews and has been reproduced with permission.)

(** PHOTO CREDIT: Snake, Columbine, stock.xchng; crowds, cx_ed, stock.xchng)



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