“Things That Go Bump in the Night” …and Other Fears

By Tracy Fromm, Mental Health Counselor for Caring Communities

The partial title above, “Things that go bump in the night”, is a phrase which has been used since the early 19th century. It was originally seen in print to denote a fear of ghosts or goblins and supernatural phenomena. We have all been scared at one time or another.  In fact, some people seek out frightening encounters or movies, because they love to “be scared.”

However, many people are afraid of diverse situations, objects, etc. which can evoke a physiological response, such as panic attacks, with accompanying trembling, sweating and dizziness. Sometimes we try to ignore those fears, which can provide us with reassurance, but this is a temporary “fix.”

For those with an extreme reaction, or irrational aversions, those individuals are diagnosed as having a phobia.

A phobia is an extreme fear of something, which initiates a flight response (i.e., wanting to run away from the source).

Do you consider yourself to have phobias? Are you frightened of spiders, clowns, or do you have a fear of heights? Many people have these same fears.

 The following is a list of the top five phobias:

1)Social Phobia: A fear of being judged by other people. Do you dread social situations and avoid them when you can?

2)Arachnophobia: An acute fear of spiders. Does the creepy-crawly arachnid make your blood run cold?

3)Agoraphobia: The fear of open or crowded spaces, such as public transportation or long lines at a concert.

4)Claustrophobia:  The fear of getting stuck in an enclosed area or space. Claustrophobia can result in sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness and feeling nauseous. You may have experienced claustrophobia when getting into a cramped, small elevator.

5)Acrophobia:  Fear of heights. This phobia is fairly common. Those with acrophobia will not board a roller coaster or book a reservation on the 40th floor of a hotel.

So how do we treat phobias?

If you sense that you may have a phobia(s), please seek professional help. Very often there are psychological reasons why people develop phobias.

For example, in Psychoanalytic Theory, Sigmund Freud, stated that the feared object is a replacement for something else.  Whereas in Learning Theory, phobias are felt to develop when a fear of something is either reinforced or punished.

While both theories have validity, living with a phobia can be debilitating.

For example, if someone has “aerophobia”, a fear of flying, his or her job, which mandates air travel will certainly be a source of tremendous stress and may require medication.

The following are just some of the ways in which phobias are treated:

Exposure Therapy: A type of cognitive behavioral therapy which reduces physiological distress by “graded/gradual exposure” to a situation, person, or object to make you less sensitive to that form of stress.

Mindfulness: a process of bringing your attention “into the moment” without judging.  Mindfulness is generally taught through meditation exercises or other training.

Relaxation Techniques: A therapist will utilize the benefits of deep breathing techniques, visualization and guided imagery to assist a client when encountering a trigger related to a fear.

It is important to address your fears through counseling or in discussion with your own physician. Phobias can limit your life and have the potential of developing into other phobias. Free yourself of fears once and for all.

For more information on mental health and help finding local resources, please visit www.nami.org.