Chapter 7
  1. Your Emotions and Your Health

184. Take the Fear out of Phobias

We can all recall experiences when we were afraid of something—going to the dentist perhaps, or driving in a thunderstorm, or being home alone as a child. These fears are usually short-lived and don’t disrupt our lives. A phobia, in contrast, is a severe, recurring, irrational fear that triggers dramatic physical and psychological changes, such as heart palpitations, sweating, vomiting, a feeling of suffocation, and sometimes even a sense of impending death. People with phobias go to extremes to avoid the object or situation they fear. A person who’s afraid of driving on the expressway, for example, may travel on side roads only, no matter how inconvenient.

Some of the more common phobias include:

  1. Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces).

  2. Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces).

  3. Ailurophobia (fear of cats).

  4. Hematophobia (fear of blood).

  5. Nyctophobia (fear of the night).

A behavior modification technique known as desensitization combines mental imagery and relaxation training. Taught by psychologists or other mental health professionals, desensitization cures phobias in about 80 percent of those affected by the problem. Contact your community mental health agency for where to go for help if you think you could benefit from desensitization treatment.