Natural treatment of Phobias
Up to 10 percent of people suffer from phobias, the excessive or irrational fear of an object, situation, activity or animal that will not cause harm in most cases. Phobia is the most common of not only all anxiety disorders, but of all psychiatric disorders as well.
Flying, bodies of water, dental visits - all of these can cause pho- bias. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from these specific, or simple, phobias. Social anxiety disorder results in overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations, such as public speaking, meeting new people or even using public toilets. Men and women are affected equally
A parent's phobia may be passed on to children as learned behaviour. Sometimes a bad experience, such as a dog bite, may lead to a phobia. Phobias often appear during childhood or adolescence. Overprotective parents or limited opportunities for social interactions may contribute to the development of social phobia.
Phobias are divided into three main categories:
Specific phobias. These include a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); animals (zoophobia), particularly spiders, snakes or mice; heights (acrophobia); flying (aviophobia); water (hydrophobia); storms; dentists; injections; tunnels; bridges; and not being able to get off public transportation quickly enough. There are many other specific phobias.
Social phobia. More than just shyness, social phobia involves a combination of excessive self-consciousness, a fear of public scrutiny or humiliation in common social situations, and a fear of negative evaluation by others.
Fear of open spaces (agoraphobia). Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks. Agoraphobia is a fear of a place — such as a mall, an elevator or a room full of people — with no easy means of escape if a panic attack should occur.
Practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation and yoga may help prevent symptoms from escalating. Do not rely on alcohol or illegal drugs for relief. Reduce the intake of caffeine and stimulants found in over-the-counter preparations.
Diagnosis is based on symptoms, their frequency and triggers. Phobias often cause physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate and sweaty palms. A physical examination can rule out any physical causes. Phobias may accompany depression, eating disorders, substance abuse or an- other anxiety disorder.
These factors may increase your risk of phobias:
Your sex. Phobias affect both sexes, but women and girls are more likely to have specific or social phobias than are men and boys. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with agoraphobia, but this may be because men tend to hide anxiety or mask it with alcohol. Men and boys may be less likely to seek help for emotional problems than women and girls.
Your family. If someone in your immediate family has a specific phobia, such as a fear of spiders or snakes, you're more likely to develop it also.
A traumatic event. Experiencing a traumatic event, such as being trapped in an elevator or attacked by an animal, may trigger the development of a phobia.
No matter what type of phobia you have, it's likely to produce the following reactions:
· A feeling of uncontrollable anxiety when you're exposed to the source of your fear — sitting on an airplane, for instance, or walking into a large party
· The feeling that you must do everything possible to avoid what you fear
· The inability to function normally because of your anxiety
· Often, the knowledge that your fears are unreasonable or exaggerated, but feeling powerless to control them
· Physical as well as psychological reactions, including sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, a feeling of panic and intense anxiety
· In some cases, anxiety just thinking about what you fear
· In children, possibly tantrums, clinging or crying
Treatment is necessary only when phobias are disabling and disrupt work and relationships.
• MEDICATION Although medication does not treat phobias, it can lessen the symptoms for as long as it is used. Beta-blockers, which are used for heart disease, block the effects of epinephrine, or adrenaline, reducing the physical symptoms. Antidepressants can reduce anxiety; most commonly prescribed are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Benzodiazepines also reduce anxiety, but can lead to addiction and must be tapered off when discontinued. They should be avoided in patients with a history of alcohol or other drug abuse.
• PSYCHOTHERAPY Cognitive therapy changes thinking patterns that in turn change emotional reactions to feared situations. Behavioural therapy works to change specific behaviours with techniques such as relaxation training or exposure. Exposure therapy carefully uses repeated imaginings of the phobia in a safe environment to help the patient gain control of the fear. Preliminary studies of newer approaches to exposure therapy involving computer- generated virtual reality experiences show promise. Desensitization uses a gradual approach to facing the phobia.
• GROUP THERAPY Patients discuss their shared phobias and some- times engage in role playing to help reduce the phobia.
• EMDR This technique reduces anxiety associated with fear of dental visits due to a past traumatic experience.
• HYPNOTHERAPY Hypnosis can reduce anxiety, especially that suffered before a medical or dental procedure. No reliable studies have compared hypnosis to other interventions.