Agoraphobia, claustrophobia, hematophobia, arachnophobia, school phobia, homophobia, xenophobia. Are these all to be placed under the same umbrella? No ! Indeed, as far as psychopathology is concerned (a branch of psychology that studies mental disorders), phobia is a fear with very specific characteristics. Of the examples quoted above, only the first four meet the criteria.
Indeed, according to the International Classification of Diseases (according to the World Health Organization), phobias are anxiety disorders. In this group of disorders, anxiety is triggered, exclusively or essentially, by certain very specific situations which are perceived by the phobic person as a danger. These situations are therefore avoided by the individual or endured with apprehension. The person's preoccupations may then focus on individual symptoms such as heart palpitations or the feeling of being about to faint and often culminate in a fear of dying, losing control, or going mad. The mere mention of a phobic situation usually triggers anticipatory anxiety.
There are three main families of phobias:
- Agoraphobia: fear of leaving home, fear of shops, crowds and public places, or fear of traveling alone by train, bus or plane. A panic disorder is common during current or previous episodes of agoraphobia.
- Social phobias: fear of being stared at by other people, leading to avoidance of situations of social interaction. Social phobias may manifest as blushing, trembling hands, nausea, or an urgent need to urinate, with the patient sometimes being convinced that one or other of these secondary symptoms is the primary problem
- Specific (isolated) phobias : phobias limited to very specific situations such as certain animals, high places, thunderstorms, darkness, air travel, enclosed spaces, use of public toilets, intake of certain foods, dental care, blood or wounds.
Phobia or other diagnosis: how to know?
The term “phobia” comes from the ancient Greek phóbos, “fear, dread, dread”. We all experience, at times, fear, intense discomfort in situations of daily life, sometimes even repeatedly. But that doesn't mean we have a phobia. There are 7 criteria for a fear to be recognized and treated as a phobia :
- An irrantional fear: Intense, irrational fear when confronted to or when anticipating to be confronted with an object or situation. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger
- The situation or object always triggers the immediate fear or anxiety
- The individual can intellectually step back from the fear: the person is able to recognize the fact that the is fear excessive and irrational (taking into account sociocultural norms)
- Confronted with the object or the situation, there is flight or distress: the person avoids the situation or experiences it with significant anxiety
- The phobia has a significant impact on the person's life
- The problem persists (≥ 6 months)
- There are no other explanations
If these criteria are not met, another diagnosis will be made.
How is a phobia created?
There are two stages in the creation of a phobia:
- Stage 1: sensitization to a stimulus (object, situation): the brain is sensitized to the fact that a particular stimulus represents a danger. Sensitization can be innate (example: the phobia of blood seems innate, without anyone yet knowing why) or acquired from an experience specific to the individual (example: being bitten by a dog) or acquired by the example of a phobic parent (example: a parent phobic of spiders…). There can also be a succession of small harmless but disturbing events which leads to the same phenomenon. As a result, the brain registered that this situation was dangerous
- Stage 2: a defect in the desensitization process. When everything goes right, there is a phenomenon of habituation which means that when an individual faces something that the brain identifies as a danger but that nothing happens, the brain calms down and understands thatthere is no danger. The brain then learns not to be afraid. In the case of a phobia, this process is blocked.
Sophrology and hypnosis
Combined with (or not) with a therapy (behavioral and cognitive therapy, for example), sophrology and hypnosis can help you free yourself from a phobia, reduce or even eliminate your paralyzing anxieties.
You can learn to manage the physical manifestations of your fears, to calm your physical, emotional and mental state, with breathing exercises and the creation of soothing mental images. You can also unblock the desensitization process and reactivate the habituation phenomenon so that the phobic object or situation become ordinary.