Phobias and Fears
Did you know that we are born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds? So, all our other fears are learned. Most phobias are developed at a young age when our parents or other caregivers give cues or directions to avoid spiders, snakes and the dark. We learn to be scared of these dangers.If these fears develop a phobia we may experience the following symptoms:
- A sensation of uncontrollable anxiety
- A feeling that at all costs, the source of that fear must be avoided
- Anxiety that is so overwhelming that when confronted with the source of the fear, the person is unable to function properly
- It is common for sufferers to acknowledge that their fears are irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated; however, in spite of this, they are unable to control their feelings
- A feeling of anxiety is produced by simply thinking about the object of the phobia
- Children may cry, become very clingy, attempt to hide behind a parent’s legs or an object, or have tantrums
- Panic and intense anxiety, which may include:
- Abnormal breathing (panting, trying to catch your breath)
- Hot flushes or chills
- A sensation of choking
- Chest pains, chest tightness
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Pins and needles
- Dry mouth
- Confusion and disorientation
Neurobiology of Phobias
Specific areas of the brain – the amygdala in particular – are associated with phobias. Some areas of the brain – the prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala – store and recall dangerous or potentially deadly events. In future occasions, if a very similar event is confronted, those areas retrieve that same memory, causing the body to react as if it was happening again.
With some people, the event may feel as if it is repeating itself many times.
Some effective treatments manage to get the brain to replace the memory and reactions with something more rational. Phobias are irrational phenomena – the brain overreacts to a stimulus. Unfortunately, the brain areas that deal with fear and stress keep retrieving the frightening event inappropriately.