All in the mind?

Are our fears and phobias real or are they all just figments of our imagination?


Photo credit: Pixabay

Vaidehi Dhakate

Fear is a basic human emotion that we experience every day. It works as a natural instinct and protects us in case of danger by making our nervous system send signals to the body - faster heartbeat, increase in blood pressure, etc.

It is often said that fear is necessary for life. But, excessive fear can become phobia - an intense, irrational fear of something that is unlikely to cause any harm. The term originates from the Greek word ‘Phobos’, meaning ‘fear’ or ‘horror’.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association outlines most of the common phobias. Here’s an insight into several types of phobias that people experience.

Water is a necessity in everyone’s lives. But, there are people who hesitate to even hold a glass of water. This is known as hydrophobia - fear of water. This also turns out to be a symptom of rabies.

We know that a person is affected with rabies through dog bites. This might develop into a phobia for dogs, called cynophobia. Further, a rabies-infected individual needs to get a vaccination.

While getting the vaccination, what if the person runs away seeing a syringe, leading to a mishap? Such fear of needles is called trypanophobia.

After this, say that the person goes and sits in a closed room, isolating himself from everyone. Suddenly, he feels suffocated, nervous, and starts sweating. This is a sign of claustrophobia - fear of closed spaces.

Alone and isolated, the bulbs of the room start to flicker and there is a power cut. If he has an intense fear of the darkness, he may have the phobia of darkness - nyctophobia.

Once the lights come back on, the man hears the door creaking open and finds himself staring at another person with a bearded face. Did you know people have a phobia of beards? It is termed as pogonophobia.

Trying to run away from the bearded man, he lands in a big crowd, with people all around. Seeing so many people, he starts panicking. This is yet another phobia - agoraphobia.

Trying to escape the crowd, he runs away and trips on a stone. As soon as he falls down, he gets injured and faints on noticing blood on his knee. Yes, people do have a phobia of blood and injuries, causing them to faint, called hemophobia.

When he finally gains consciousness, he sees the white, fluffy clouds in the sky and starts getting anxious, unfortunately suffering from nephophobia - fear of clouds.

To top it all off, some people fear phobias itself. This sounds funny but yes, a phobia of phobias exists, known as phobophobia.

It is important for people to overcome their phobias, to ensure mental well-being in their lives. A mental health professional can always help a person manage his/her phobias. The most effective treatments till date have been the exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy.

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