A phobia is an extreme and persistent fear of a specific object, situation or activity. Phobias are characterised by the enormous level of fear involved – someone who is afraid of spiders might still be able to walk through a garden, whereas someone with a phobia of spiders might find such a task terrifying and impossible. This fear cannot be rationalised or contained by the phobic, and often limits his or her capacity to function on a day to day basis. Phobias can be divided into three categories:
- Specific phobia is an extreme fear of a particular object or situation. Someone who suffers from a specific phobia might, for example, be terrified of flying, or of water, or of a particular animal or insect.
- Social phobia (also known as Social Anxiety Disorder) is fear, anxiety and tension related to the possibility, either real or perceived, of embarrassment or humiliation occurring during social interactions or public situations. Such situations might include public speaking, professional meetings, social gatherings or dating.
- Agoraphobia is an overwhelming fear of having a panic attack or losing control in some way in a difficult or potentially embarrassing situation. In particular, the individual with Agoraphobia fears being unable to escape or get help in ‘unsafe’ or unfamiliar settings away from the home. Severe agoraphobia can be highly debilitating, and often results in patients being housebound and unable to carry out even the most simple of tasks such as walking to the mailbox, or shopping for groceries.