There are many definitions of human phobia, but the main one is its characteristic as a phenomenon of irrational, uncontrollable and often unreasonable fear. Moreover, a steady state of constant anxiety in certain circumstances or in anticipation of their occurrence, especially in situations with an unknown ending or object, is emphasized. The phobia is characterized by rapid development and persistence for over 6 months. Sometimes it appears as randomly as game results at vave.com. So, it’s enough to have just one episode of intense fear and dread for the emergence of a persistent phobia up to the development of panic attacks.
In the animal world, fear is based on past negative experiences and contributes to survival in the environment. That said, some individuals of higher animals cannot be denied a phobia, but usually such animals do not survive. Although a trembling bunny is afraid of a fox or wolf, it still comes out of hiding and gets its food. Nature is ruthless in its natural selection, and if an animal starts constantly avoiding frightening situations, it simply risks starving to death. Those individuals survive which fear stimulates concentration in expectation of possible attack, quick motor reactions aimed at lightning jerks to pre-selected safe positions. To confuse the tracks is one of the ways to get away from the pursuer.
It’s possible to observe phobias in pets as well. They are quite common in dogs, who may be afraid of loud noises from gunshots, fireworks and thunder. Trips in the car can cause real panic in some of them, as can being in the dark, especially in puppies. And the most important fear in a dog is the fear of loneliness caused by the absence of the owner. It’s difficult to combat this, and it’s almost unrealistic to completely rid the pet of phobias, but it’s still possible to make his existence more comfortable.
As in the animal world, fear is a normal phenomenon in the human psyche, based along with a sense of pain on the instinct of self-preservation. According to famous scientists, fear has a protective character and is a basic genetic emotion. Its cause is considered a real or perceived threat to life.
The main difference between fear and phobia is the following:
- A sense of fear is cognizable and controllable by common sense. Phobia, on the other hand, does not lend itself to any rational arguments, is not controlled by consciousness and cannot be dealt with independently.
- Fear arises as a defensive reaction to a specific threat to a person’s safety, health or life and forces him to take specific actions to get out of the dangerous situation. A phobia is a state of unmotivated irrational fear; it often becomes multiple when a person suffers from several phobias. In the most severe cases, the person becomes afraid of everything. The presence of any phobia considerably worsens the quality of life of the person, interferes with his/her career, reduces activity, limits the circle of communication, makes the person spend nervous energy on avoiding situations that cause real panic when they occur. Sometimes it leads to complete social isolation and loss of a person from society.
- Fear tends to be “forgotten” without appropriate reinforcement. For example, if a person experiences fear in the subway during an unplanned sudden stop, smoke or other abnormal situation, then after a few safe rides the fear gradually decreases, becomes just a fear, and then it just goes away. If it turns into a phobia, then in its mild form a person can force himself back into the car, but will experience a lot of unpleasant experiences up to panic attacks. If it’s a severe form of phobia, he will never be able to go down to the subway again, despite all entreaties and arguments, and attempts to do it by force will lead to severe mental trauma and even to the expansion of the disorder to other objects and situations.
By the way, according to world statistics, phobias affect 8 percent of the world’s population, so it’s a widespread disorder.
What Is the Physiology of Phobias and Fears?
Fear develops as an autonomous chain reaction in the brain according to the scheme: stress stimulus → excitement → release of chemicals causing physiological responses.
A stressor can be any sharp sound, an aggressive stranger, a branch that looks like a snake, a spider in the bathroom, a mouse running down the hall, etc.
Such central brain structures are responsible for the response:
- The thalamus, which differentiates sensory impulses from the organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and then sends them to the corresponding centers of the brain cortex.
- Sensory cortex, which processes and interprets data from the senses.
- The hippocampus, a structure that stores and retrieves conscious memories to reveal informational context.
- The almond-shaped body, responsible for deciphering emotions and identifying possible threats, as well as storing information about experienced fear.
- The hypothalamus, which is responsible for the “hit or run” response.
The response can be realized in two parallel ways:
- The rapid response, the meaning of which is to seek maximum risk limitation. At a frightening stimulus, the GM instantly triggers a quick reaction of evaluating the stimulus as a threat, as a preventive measure.
- Long reaction aimed at clarifying the situation. It’s more deliberate and considers different options.
It looks something like this:
Signals from the sensory organs go to the thalamus, which differentiates them, but does not decode them, but sends them up the chain to the amygdala, which determines the degree of threat and commands the hypothalamus to activate the “hit or run” response.
Simultaneously, the thalamus sends the received information to the sensory cortex for more precise interpretation and directs it to the hippocampus to establish the context by comparing it with previously received background information from non-threatening stimuli – wind noise, gently rocking of a car, lulling ticking of the clock, habitual smells, evenly changing objects outside the window, etc. It’s the hippocampus that determines whether a stressful stimulus is a threat or not.
If not, it sends a message to the amygdala that there is no threat, and from there it sends a command to the hypothalamus to stop the “hit or run” reaction.
By whatever means the response to a frightening stimulus is realized, all roads lead to the hypothalamus, which is responsible for the work of 2 departments of the autonomic nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic, as well as for the activation by corticotropin of about 30 hormones of the adrenal cortex, released into the bloodstream. These include adrenaline, norepinephrine and others that cause changes in physiological reactions, which are the signs of fear and phobias.
What Are the Main Symptoms and Signs of Phobias
The symptomatology of a phobic disorder is quite varied. The determining factor for a phobia diagnosis is the presence of at least 2 of the following symptoms, and one of them must be in the 1st four. These signs include:
- Elevated and acute sweating (hyperhidrosis).
- Tremors in the form of trembling of the limbs, eyelids, the whole body.
- A sensation of dryness in the mouth.
- Pain or discomfort in the chest.
- Difficulty in breathing, its rapid shallow character (tachypnea).
- Feeling of shortness of breath and suffocation.
- Depersonalization and/or derealization – perception of oneself and everything that occurs, as not real or relating to someone else.
- Fear of death.
- Hot flashes or chills.
Other physiological reactions such as dilated pupils to increase perceived light and improve visibility, constriction of skin veins to direct blood to organs competent for the response, increased blood glucose concentration, uncontrollable urination and defecation are also observed, tension of the tiniest skeletal muscles around the hair follicles, resulting in what appears to be hair “puffing up,” relaxation of smooth muscles, disabling of systems insignificant at the moment of fear, such as the digestive and immune systems, decreased concentration on unimportant details for a better view of the overall situation. All of these physical reactions are designed to help us survive a dangerous situation and prepare to either flee or fight for our lives.