“I know I shouldn’t be scared. I feel so dumb that so many people seem to be fine, and for some reason I can’t handle it. Logically, I know I’m really ok right now, but for some reason, I can’t help feeling afraid anyway. I wish I could just make it go away so I could live my life.” Whether the fear is an animal, driving, traffic, crowds, doctors, needles, or water, what people say about their fear tends to be remarkably similar.
Fear vs. Phobia
Fear is a natural feeling in your body. It is the fight or flight response that is triggered by the amygdala, the part of your brain that functions as a threat-detector. A phobia is a strong fear of a specific object or situation that is disproportionate to the actual danger of the situation. The fight or flight response is intended to help keep your body safe from danger. Your brain is doing its job to protect you, preparing you to run away by pumping blood to your extremities. The result is that your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes shallower, and you may feel light-headed, sweaty, or tingly. When a real threat arises, this automatic fight or flight reaction is extremely helpful. It helps you protect yourself without you having to think about it. When this reaction is triggered in a situation that is not actually dangerous in the moment, it’s not so helpful and may interfere with your life.
Top 7 Phobias in America
Phobias and fears may be more common that you think. Phobias are the most common anxiety disorder. According to a recent survey, here are the top 7 fears in America:
#7. Aviophobia – Fear of flying. 14% of Americans report some fear of flying. The fear may be related to flying itself, or caused by related fears like being out of control, the fear of being enclosed in a small space, fear of germs, or fear of having a panic attack.
#6. Claustrophobia – 17% of Americans are afraid of being enclosed in small spaces with no escape. This can manifest in a fear of being in elevators, fear of being in planes, subways, buses, stuck in traffic, or even waiting in line.
#5. Aquaphobia – 19% report a fear of bodies of water. This may be a fear of drowning, fear of being stuck on a boat, fear of unseen things in the water, or a fear of not being able to breathe.
#4. Trypanophobia – 18% report a fear of medical procedures involving blood, injections, or needles. This may include avoidance of visiting doctors’ offices so that a procedure will be less likely.
#3. Zoophobias - Fears of animals take the #3 spot with 22% reporting a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia), dogs (cynophobia) or other animals.
#2. Acrophobia - 24% of Americans say they are afraid of heights, and may avoid roller coasters, driving over bridges, going to the tops of tall buildings, etc.
#1. Glossophobia – The #1 fear in America is the fear of public speaking, with 25% saying they’d prefer to avoid speaking in front of people.
Why do phobias happen?
With a phobia, even if you know logically that you’re safe, you feel scared anyway. This is because the logical part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), is separate from the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system). The limbic system (specifically the amygdala) is responsible for triggering the fight or flight system. The amygdala stores information about what represents a threat to you. If you have an upsetting or scary experience, the amygdala bookmarks everything about that situation, so that it can automatically trigger a fight or flight response in any similar situation in the future. Once the amygdala has learned to trigger a fight or flight response in a particular situation, that response will usually persist over time without some intervention. In other words, once your brain learns a fear, it usually won't go away on its own, even if logically you tell yourself, "There's nothing to be afraid of."
Live without fear
There is help for fears and phobias. Using EMDR therapy, (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) we go back to where your brain first learned that a situation was dangerous, and help it relearn that it’s safe now. That way the fear is no longer triggered in the first place. For phobias I use a combination of mindfulness tools to help you calm your body in the moment, EMDR therapy to reduce the amount of fear triggered, along with traditional behavioral therapy to help your brain relearn that a situation is safe. If you're dealing with fear, contact me so you can be free to live your life.