Fears are more common than you think

Fears are more common than you think

People all over the world suffer from fears, phobias and anxieties. Approximately 10% of people in the U.S. have specific phobias, 7.1% experience social phobias, and 0.9% have agoraphobia. These percentages mean that either you or someone you know is experiencing a phobia, fear or anxiety of some sort. Unfortunately though, many of these people refrain from telling key individuals in their lives or avoid seeking help.

What are fears though, how do they come about and how common are they?

Keep reading, we'll get into all the ins and outs of phobias as well as break some social barriers and stigmas that come with the territory.

 

What fears are all about

A phobia is an overwhelming, irrational, and persistent fear that leads to avoiding the object or situation. It can be a fear of a specific thing or of a social setting.

 

Phobias fall into a class of mental disorders known as anxiety disorders. This class includes several different disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (formerly called social phobia). If you have a phobia and you can't avoid the object or situation you fear, you can experience extreme anxiety. You may organize your life in ways that help you avoid the thing you fear, yet may still experience anxiety even thinking about it.

Most fears have similar and common symptoms that include; nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, panic etc.  The degree at which these symptoms manifest can range from uneasiness to a full blown panic attack. 

 

Different fears. Different treatments

Treatment for fears and anxiety come in different ranges as well. There are professional psychological treatments like talk therapy exposure therapy or CBT. In these techniques a therapist will ask the individual to either imagine or physically confront their fears. They will be walked through a process of confronting, gradually, and overcoming their fears through exposure. Within these techniques there are also sub categories like VR, where an individual can immerse themselves in frightening environments and engage with their fears. 




Fears Come in Different Forms

 

 Social Fears

As we mentioned there are social and specific phobias. Social phobias pertain to interhuman interactions and the fears that may manifest as a result. While specific phobias are fears of objects or situations. 

 

Social phobias are probably the most common kind of phobia affecting people of all creeds in all different situations. However social phobias are often cultural, what may be considered embarrassing to you may not be in a different part of the world. Aside from this distinction phobias also affect men and women differently. Interestingly among all of the social phobia facts is that more women than men are affected by them. Often, people confuse social phobias with shyness, which is generally more prevalent in women. 

 

Fears can also be an objectively embarrassing thing to admit to yourself or to others and as a result phobia statistics reveal that only 23% of all people with phobias seek treatment for their anxiety. This raises the question of how we can make treatment more accessible and mainstream.

 

 Perhaps a solution is a more self help oriented one where individuals can focus on their fears alone without the judgment of others. Social phobias affect people of all ages, though they usually begin in adolescence. Nearly 40% of them begin before the age of 10, while 95% start before the age of 20. This really gives credence to the argument that phobias stem from childhood trauma or misfortune.

 

 There are many different kinds of social phobia with the more common social phobias including a fear of eating before someone, meeting people of higher authority, using a telephone or speaking before a large crowd etc. Typical symptoms of social anxiety phobias are heart palpitations, dry mouth, hot cold flashes and trembling. Interestingly nearly 45% of people with social phobias will develop Agoraphobia and the fear of having an anxiety attack in public and embarrassing themselves. This is why many of these phobics try to avoid social situations completely. 

 

A sad result of social phobia is that nearly 17% of people with social phobias develop depression. With the majority of them turning to medication, even substance abuse with illegal drugs (nearly 17%) or alcohol (nearly 19%). However, the fact remains that anti anxiety medication and antidepressants are the most effective treatment for social phobias. Apart from prescription medication, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is another alternative as a known effective treatment for overcoming social phobias. 

 

Many people suffering from these phobias have experienced an impact in their personal and professional lives. Some refuse promotions and others refuse to give presentations, attend meetings or other activities that involve social interactions. The fears that result from these phobias can compound and really wear down on the individual's day to day life. As stated before, nearly 80% of phobics find relief in medicines and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. However, treatment should be continued for as long as required since phobia statistics reveal that 50% of these people also tend to relapse. Many individuals cut treatment early or perceive themselves as better before they are fully clear; this can result in relapses in fear and a fallback to older ways. 

 

Specific Phobias- fear of a very specific individual "thing"

Specific phobias which are a fear of objects or animals, are also quite common. They usually make up an irrational fear of an object, common known phobias include a fear of heights or claustrophobia (a fear of tight spaces) but can extend to fears of spiders, dogs or even thunder and lightning. While it isn't known for certain how these phobias come about it is widely believed that they stem from childhood traumas or incidents.  Some children do grow out of their phobias but in some cases the fear carries into adulthood, resulting in serious setbacks in daily affairs and common activities. 

 

It is believed that nearly 15-20% of us experience specific phobias at least once in our life. In the U.S. alone, nearly 8.7% of people (aged 18 and over) have at least one extreme specific fear and nearly 25 million Americans report having the fear of flying phobia. These fears are common and nothing to be sneezed at, 25 million people is a serious chunk of the population. Specific phobias can affect people of all ages, backgrounds or social-economic statuses, there are even famous celebrities that suffer from fears. 

 

More research is needed to isolate the gene responsible for triggering such phobias. However, phobia statistics collected so far show that individuals with a parent or a close relative suffering from specific phobias are likelier to develop the same phobia as well. This could mean that the assumption that phobias are triggered in childhood could be flawed. The part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for triggering fear as a fight or flight response to danger. However, sometimes it triggers fear during safe situations, this results in anxiety or specific phobias. 

 

Research regarding the issue, though, is lacking and needs to be further studied to help understand these disorders better. Some of the most common specific phobias include the fear of animals, fear of the environment (fear of rain, earthquakes etc.), fear of blood/injury, fear of certain situations (claustrophobia, fear of traveling on bridges etc.), fear of death, fear of certain body sensations and fear of incontinence. Unfortunately, as with social phobias the majority of these patients do not seek treatment for these phobias. Again as a society we need to ask ourselves what can be done to help reduce some of the stigmas regarding mental health. 





A Cry for Help

Something that keeps coming up is the fact that while the numbers of individuals that suffer from fears is relatively high comparatively the amount of people that seek help is low. Reasons for this could be fear, shame, a lack of understanding or awareness. Whatever the issue may be it's an issue that we as a society need to contend with. 

 

Individuals that suffer from phobias may feel inadequate for suffering from seemingly “childish” issues and avoid telling friends and family or worse, refuse to admit to themselves that they suffer from something too. It is part of our responsibility to rip down these stigmas to allow these people the opportunity and comfort they need to seek help and recover. On top of this, solutions need and are coming to light. Perhaps a more discreet form of help is needed. Self help guides already exist on the internet, step by step programs and walkthroughs, through CBT techniques and exposure therapy.

 

VR: A new way to recover

Some companies are revolutionizing VR tech as another route to recovery. VR, Virtual Reality, is not a new tech; it uses a display to lay a digitized reality over your real reality. Unlike AR (Augmented reality), VR is completely immersive meaning you get no interactivity with the real world. While the tech in theory isn’t new, it is getting a huge boost. Thanks to advancements by companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) and others, tech is getting cheaper and ever more accessible. The Oculus Quest 2 is a VR immersive headset that is completely standalone, meaning it doest need a computer to run. This coupled with its relatively affordable cost of around $300 makes it a very accessible platform. As with a lot of tech its initial burst on the scene was very game focused, however as the tech progresses more practical, everyday uses are being developed. Oculus comes with Horizon work rooms, Meta’s metaverse work environment. VR is also moving into other territories and that's where it comes into play with our conversation here. 

Products like the braVeR oculus app allow for individuals to confront their fears head on. The app has immersive interactive capabilities that allow users to enter environments that challenge them and their fears. Through compounding difficulty, the app puts individuals to the test, but at their own pace and their own comfort levels. This could come as a solution to the issue that individuals do not seek the attention that they need.