Understanding Specific Phobias

You’re out enjoying the day on your bike. Then you notice a dog just down the street. Your heart starts pounding—but not from the exercise. Your throat closes, and you can’t breathe. You don’t know why you’re afraid of dogs. But your terror is real. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel this way. Talk to your doctor. You may have a specific phobia. If so, there are treatments that can help you overcome your fear.

What are specific phobias?

A specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes an intense fear of a certain object or situation. Many people with this disorder fear animals such as dogs or snakes. Other people are afraid of closed spaces (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), or flying. Often, there’s no reason to be afraid. Yet the fear seems beyond your control. You try to stay away from what scares you at any cost. This may make it hard to live a normal life.

Who do they affect?

Specific phobias affect both men and women. Many start in childhood. Some of these might go away as you get older. But you may need help with phobias that persist into your adult years.

What can help?

The good news is that specific phobias are often easy to treat. You can be helped by behavior therapy. Working with your therapist, you’ll slowly learn to face your fears. There are also medicines that help you control your anxiety. They can give you more confidence to handle fearful situations.

To learn more

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America 240-485-1001 www.adaa.org

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357) findtreatment.samhsa.gov

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