Phobia vs. Fear – Is There A Difference? Everybody has fears. We fear losing our jobs, our homes, our way of life. We may even be a little afraid of the dark or nervous when confronted with a spider. Fear is just nature’s way of warding us from danger, telling us to flee from things we are subconsciously afraid of. Yet in some cases, fear becomes something more – a phobia.
There is a difference between general fear and a clinical phobia. The difference is usually how extreme the reaction to the object of the fear or phobia is. If, for example, when you see a snake, you feel uncomfortable and your heart races a little, you are afraid of the snake. This is a normal reaction based on survival instincts. If, however, you see a snake and want to scream or run away, you begin to sweat or tremble or experience other symptoms of anxiety, then you have a phobia.
Sometimes, a phobia can become so pronounced the person cannot even say what it is they are afraid of – the word alone is enough to bring on a physical reaction of terror. Thousands of people refuse to even come in to contact with the object of their phobia if they can avoid it, such as refusing to fly on aircraft if they have a fear of flying. Phobias are an extreme, natural overreaction to everyday things, events and circumstances.
Phobias are primarily dealt with using exposure therapy, where a person forces themselves to ‘confront’ their fear. This can involve placing themselves in the same room as a snake, or boarding an aircraft. While terrifying, this kind of therapy is hugely effective, and phobias can be managed once and for all.
High bridges, new places, or old elevators may make us a bit uneasy or even frightened. We might try to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, but most people generally manage to control their fears and carry out daily activities without incident.
But people with specific phobias, or strong irrational fear reactions, work hard to avoid common places, situations, or objects even though they know there’s no threat or danger. The fear may not make any sense, but they feel powerless to stop it.
People who experience these seemingly excessive and unreasonable fears in the presence of or in anticipation of a specific object, place, or situation have a specific phobia.
Having phobias can disrupt daily routines, limit work efficiency, reduce self-esteem, and place a strain on relationships because people will do whatever they can to avoid the uncomfortable and often-terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.
While some phobias develop in childhood, most seem to arise unexpectedly, usually during adolescence or early adulthood. Their onset is usually sudden, and they may occur in situations that previously did not cause any discomfort or anxiety.
Although people with phobias realize that their fear is irrational, even thinking about it can often cause extreme anxiety
ADAA is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety and mood disorders, OCD, and PTSD and to improving the lives of all people who suffer from them through education, practice, and research.