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Banish the fear factor; YOUR HEALTH.

Byline: MATTHEW BARBOUR

A shockingly high one in 20 of us have a phobia. But whether it's the common fear of spiders or the rather more unusual terror of knees, here's how to spot if you have one and what you can do about it.

Lots of the I'm A Celebrity campmates had to face their fears last month, but you don't need to be in the jungle to come across your own personal nightmare, one that can disrupt your life and seriously affect friendships, work prospects and holiday choices. And phobias can strike anyone, regardless of age or sex.

"One misconception is that women suffer more than men, but it's not true, except for agoraphobia, which is relatively rare in males," says chartered psychologist Professor Alexander Gardner.

There is some evidence, however, that phobias are more likely to develop in people who are intelligent and highly educated. Also, 20 years ago most people who approached Anxiety UK were in their forties or older, but now they are more likely to be younger.

But the good news is that there's help out there

How it starts

Often there's no obvious explanation for a phobia but most are seen to have their roots in early childhood, Prof Gardner says.

"It could be triggered by a one-off experience - for instance, being temporarily trapped in a confined, enclosed space could lead to claustrophobia, while a social phobia can often be traced to an earlier, intensely embarrassing episode in a social situation."

What it feels like

Exposure to, or even just thinking about the object, creature or situation leads to:

Intense anxiety

Dizziness and feeling faint

Palpitations (awareness of an abnormally rapid heartbeat)

Sweating, trembling and nausea

Shortness of breath

Going to great lengths to avoid a situation that wouldn't bother most people

Five ways to beat your phobia

If a phobia is seriously affecting your life, talk to your GP or contact the British Psychological Society (bps. org.uk) to find a chartered therapist who can help you deal with your fears. Most cases can be treated with one of these methods:

1 Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

This often involves 'exposure therapy'. A therapist gives support while you're safely and gradually exposed to the object or situation you fear. Exposure is kept within bearable limits until, bit by bit, you can cope with your fear.

2 Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapists relax patients to try to take them back to the trigger of the phobia, which is often an innocent childhood encounter. When this old fear is released and talked through, patients often find their phobia improves.

3 Drug therapy

Some newer antidepressants such as Seroxat are successful in treating phobias. As a one-off, your GP may prescribe beta blockers, though they only offer short-term relief and don't address the root cause.

4 Food therapy

Keeping blood sugar stable may help prevent attacks. So, have several small meals a day, eat complex carbs like potatoes, wholegrain breads and cereals, and avoid simple carbs like sweets, cakes and biscuits.

5 Virtual Reality

Exposure Treatment (VRET) This can help treat phobias in a computer-simulated environment. Repeated exposure via virtual reality desensitises the phobia and it's less terrifying than facing fears in the real world. At present, this is only available in the US and in a handful of private UK clinics.

Dealing with three of the most common phobias Arachnophobia (spiders):

A cognitive behavioural therapy practitioner using exposure therapy can have good results, Prof Gardner says. First, you'll be asked to imagine seeing a spider until you can do so without fear, then view photos of spiders, and finally look at - or even hold - a spider in real life.

Aerophobia (flying): One of the most effective treatments is a one-day flying course, with some companies claiming a 95% success rate. You're taught how planes work and how safe flying really is. A pilot explains the mechanics of flying, safety checks and what different noises mean. Then, on a short flight, you are accompanied by a psychologist who helps deal with any remaining anxiety. Visit flying withoutfear.info.

Social: If shyness is so disabling you're terrified of social situations, CBT can replace negative thoughts and irrational beliefs for more positive ones. After treatment, patients are less self-conscious and can enjoy being around others.

"Shy bladder, or fear of using public loos, is also one of the most severe social phobias and affects up to four million people in the UK," Prof Gardner says.

The Paruresis Trust runs regular workshops to help meet others with the condition and get help. Visit ukpt.org.uk.

THE TOP 10 MOST REPORTED PHOBIAS ACCORDING TO ANXIETY UK

Social phobia: fear of interacting with other people

Agoraphobia: fear of open public spaces

Emetophobia: fear of vomiting

Erythrophobia: fear of blushing

Driving phobia: fear of driving

Hypochondria: fear of illness

Aerophobia: fear of flying

Arachnophobia: fear of spiders

Zoophobia: fear of animals

Claustrophobia: fear of confined spaces
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 9, 2018
Words:822
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