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What Is the Difference Between a Phobia and a Fear?

You might look at these two words, phobia and fear, and deduce they’re the same. At times, they may be used interchangeably.

That may well be the case for someone that doesn’t have to address the topic much, but there is a real gulf between the two for those living it.

So, what is the difference between a phobia and a fear?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

What Is Fear?

Fear is a normal and natural emotion to feel. From an evolutionary perspective, fear has served humans incredibly well. Understanding when you’re in a dangerous situation, be it mentally or physically, has been a factor in the survival of our species.

Fear is a powerful and fundamental part of the human experience.

Given that we all understand fear at our core and have been in situations that have induced it, surprisingly, there isn’t a particularly great definition.

Cambridge dictionary defines it as “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.”

Research into the biology of fear has yielded a more functional definition, however; “fear is an intervening variable between sets of context-dependent stimuli and suites of behavioral response.”

Whichever definition makes more sense to you, the key thing to remember is that fear is a regular part of life.

What Is a Phobia?

On the other hand, phobias are something else and represent a real issue for people who live with them.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) calls phobias a type of anxiety disorder, saying “it is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.”

HHS goes on, adding that if a person experiences a phobia cannot get away from it, they may be overwhelmed with:

  • Panic and fear
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • A strong desire to getaway

Phobia can be related to specific things, like flying, heights, snakes, or something like agoraphobia, which is a fear of leaving the house. Social anxiety disorder, or a fear of social settings, can cause people to avoid people altogether. The point is that there are stark consequences associated with phobias.

What Is the Difference Between a Phobia and a Fear?

Phobias are all-consuming fears. Fear on steroids, if you will.

Finding yourself in the throes of a phobic response is a magnitude of order more intense than a casual fear response.

As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) puts it, “although adults with phobias may realize that these fears are irrational, even thinking about facing the feared object or situation brings on severe anxiety symptoms.”

Phobias can be debilitating disorders that act as a major disruptive force in a person’s life.

How To Get Help with A Phobia Today

It bears repeating that a phobia, any phobia, falls under the broader framework of anxiety disorders.

NIMH adds that “anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”

That type of aggressive interruption means that it takes an equally aggressive effort to overcome those deep-seated fears. Phobias don’t generally resolve themselves.

Fortunately, there is a way to work through a phobia with the help of dedicated and specialized treatment.

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is a hallmark of many of the anxiety disorder treatment programs you’ll come across. Multi-Concept Recovery is no exception, and our facility is a proponent of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is cited as one the most effective, evidence-based options for treating anxiety. The gold standard of psychotherapy, according to researchers.

To learn more about the ins and outs of how we treat phobia and anxiety disorders, get in touch with us.

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