"There are more things, Lucilius, that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality."
. . .Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium
* * *Gloria became so frightened at the thought or image of a spider that her heart began to race and in her efforts to get away she once tripped over a coffee table and broke her foot. Her children, ages four and six, were becoming fearful of all insects and that fear was interfering with their play with other children. No one had actually had a bad experience with an insect.
* * *Philip became physically ill at the sight of blood, overcome with nausea and dizziness. He was unable to meet school requirements for biology because he would faint every time the teacher described the internal functioning of the body or a dissection was performed. Philip’s Specific Phobia is known as hemophobia, one of the most difficult of the phobias to manage, and can interfere in dramatic and unexpected ways — at the movies, at the doctor’s office, in school, visiting a friend in the hospital, falling off a bike. He had never had an injury, operation or experience that was related to his reaction in any way.
* * *Carolyn was so frightened of dogs that she would walk blocks out of her way to avoid passing a house where she knew a dog would be in the yard or she would cross the street if she saw someone walking a dog on her side of the street. She refused to visit friends who had dogs and broke out into sweat whenever in a situation where one appeared unexpectedly. Carolyn had never been bitten nor had a bad experience with a dog.
* * *Gloria, Philip and Carolyn were all suffering from Specific Phobia. Adults with this particular anxiety disorder realize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable but are unable to do anything about it. They will go to great lengths to avoid the object of their fear, often causing disruption in the activities of their lives and in their interactions with others. Twenty million people in the United States are estimated to suffer from a phobia at some time during their lives. More often than not, the intense fear has no connection to a real event. Most treatment focuses on exposure-desensitization. (Fear of flying is sometimes classified as a phobia, however, it is actually a classic symptom of Panic Disorder.)
Gloria, Philip, and Carolyn all used exposure-desensitization strategies, usually in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Gloria was able to manage her aversion to spiders within six months. Philip used exposure-desensitization therapy and some cognitive therapy for about ten months at which time he was discharged with significant improvement. Carolyn became comfortable enough to be around dogs in a controlled environment such as a friend’s home. She plans to continue treatment to reduce even further the negative impact of this fear on her life.
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