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Is it Anxiety, a Phobia, or Both?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Anxiety and phobias fall very closely together on the spectrum of mental health and illness. They are intrinsically linked and often exist together. So, how do we differentiate between the two? How do you identify whether you are facing anxiety, a phobia, or even both? It is essential to understand what makes anxiety and phobias both similar and different, and how they can present on their own or together.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a common and complex mental health issue in the world today and covers a broad range of symptoms and sub-categories. In its simplest form, anxiety is defined as intense worry and stress. Everyone is likely to experience some sort of anxiety in their life. This is not a bad thing. Anxiety and worry allow us to react to the stresses of life and identify potential threats or harmful situations. Anxiety is essentially our body's way of helping us stay safe. However, when the intense worry and stress become extreme and we start to worry and overthink everyday situations, whether they are threatening or not, this becomes an issue. This becomes an issue as anxiety disrupts a person’s ability to function. Some of the most common anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Specific Phobias.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety-related mental health disorder that is defined as intense and extreme fear over a specific stimulus, whether that be a situation or an object. A phobia is an umbrella term for a large range of different and specific phobias. Some phobias include, but are not limited to, Claustrophobia (a fear of enclosed spaces), Trypanophobia (a fear of needles), Acrophobia (a fear of heights), and Social Anxiety. It is completely normal for people to have fears in everyday life. Like anxiety, these fears are our body's way of protecting us from potentially harmful situations. However, these fears become phobia when the worry and fear of the specific stimulus become so intense, and it affects your everyday life so much that you begin to avoid daily situations to minimize your interaction with the thing you fear.

So, how are anxiety and phobias linked?

As stated previously, a phobia is a sub-disorder of anxiety. Anxiety comes into play with phobias as the feeling of intense worry, fear, and rumination about the specific thing a person may fear. Phobias do not exist without anxiety; however, anxiety can exist without having a phobia. For example, when someone is experiencing Claustrophobia, they often experience intense worry and panic (anxiety) about being in enclosed spaces. Therefore, it is essential to understand what anxiety is when approaching treatment for phobias. This link between anxiety and phobias also helps to understand that Social Anxiety is a type of phobia disorder. Social Anxiety can also be categorized as a social phobia, due to the intense fear and worry about social situations. Anxiety and phobias are similar in the sense that they share the overarching feelings of intense worry and fear. However, they are different in how they target different things. Phobias are intense worry and fear directed and specific objects or situations, whilst anxiety is categorized as the general feeling we might experience towards the objects, situations, or experiences. So, anxiety is a crucial symptom and experience of phobias, but phobias are not always present when experiencing other forms of anxiety.

How can we treat phobias in consideration of anxiety?

The first part of treating a phobia is to understand the level of fear and anxiety a person is experiencing. If you feel like you might be experiencing intense anxiety towards a specific object or situation, perhaps have a go at taking one of our free phobia tests to see where you stand. The next step is to find a treatment that works best. Phobias and anxiety are often treated with either talking therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy, or exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a beneficial approach to phobias and anxiety that help the individual develop effective coping strategies for facing their fears and anxiety in a controlled and supported way. Often with the element of anxiety, facing your fears and phobias can be challenging, even during exposure therapy. That’s why at oVRcome, we offer exposure therapy treatment that can be carried out in the comfort of your own home, with virtual reality. Our exposure therapy treatment is psychologist-designed and supported and helps you build up to facing your phobias with virtual reality. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with a phobia, check out our range of exposure therapy programs to begin the journey of overcoming phobias today.

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