The word 'phobia' is a derivation of the Greek word 'phobos', meaning flight, which originated from the Greek deity Phobos - whose particular talent was to inspire fear and panic in his enemies.
Fear is a common feeling or experience for all people and is generally accepted as a normal response in a variety of fear-provoking situations. For some people, however, fear develops into phobias.
The predominant symptoms of phobias are physiological and emotional anxiety, and ‘flight’ or avoidance behaviours. Phobic anxiety is characteristically excessive in relation to the triggering situation. While the phobic person is aware of the unreasonable nature of their fear, they are not able to rationalise their anxiety using logical explanations. Generally, exposure to the feared object or situation provokes an immediate and intense anxiety response, which may take the form of a panic attack. Typically, the feared object or situation is avoided or sometimes endured with dread, and anticipatory anxiety occurs if confronted with the necessity to enter the feared situation. The focus of the phobia may be anticipated harm from some aspect of the object or situation. It may also involve concerns about losing control, panicking, and fainting that might occur when exposed to the feared object or situation. Feelings of embarrasment and shame add to the distress caused by the phobia itself.
The degree of distress which arises from phobias varies considerably. Little disturbance or anxiety may arise for individuals whose phobias are of rarely encountered objects or situations and are therefore easily avoidable. For example, avoidance of snakes or deep water would generally impose few limitations on the lives of most surburban people with these phobias. For many people, however, their phobias are focused on everyday objects or situations, which must be continually encountered, so that phobic anxiety and avoidance become central to their lives. Examples of these phobias include: fear of closed places – claustrophobia, fear of heights – acrophobia, fear of darkness – nyctophobia, fear of storms – brontophobia, fear of blood – hemaphobia, fear of water – hydrophobia, and fear of being alone – autophobia. Where these phobias lead to a person suffering constant distress, severe limitations upon their choices and freedom, and sometimes the development of panic attacks, the phobic condition is considered to be an anxiety disorder.