What is a specific phobia?
A specific phobia is an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Some of the more common specific phobias are centered around closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, dogs, and injuries involving blood. Such phobias aren’t just extreme fear; they are irrational fear of a particular thing. You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains with ease but be unable to go above the 5th floor of an office building. While adults with phobias realize that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Specific phobias affect an estimated 6.3 million adult Americans and are twice as common in women as in men. The causes of specific phobias are not well understood, though there is some evidence that these phobias may run in families. Specific phobias usually first appear during childhood or adolescence and tend to persist into adulthood.
If the object of the fear is easy to avoid, people with specific phobias may not feel the need to seek treatment. Sometimes, though, they may make important career or personal decisions to avoid a phobic situation, and if this avoidance is carried to extreme lengths, it can be disabling. Specific phobias are highly treatable with carefully targeted psychotherapy.
Phobias aren’t just extreme fears; they are irrational fears. You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains with ease but feel panic going above the 5th floor of an office building.