I know a woman who's terrified of cats. Can't stand the sight of 'em. I don't know what would happen if one brushed by her, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be pretty.
Cat phobia, right? Well, not necessarily. Turns out that if the dread doesn't interfere with your life and prevent you from doing things you have to do, it isn't phobic.
My cat-freaked friend just has to avoid felines and all is well. So how do you know the difference between a weird fear and an actual disorder?
There are three different types of clinically recognized anxiety disorder: specific phobias (heights, bugs, flying), social phobias and agoraphobia, where people with panic attacks fear having them in places they can't get out of, like cars, stores, etc.
It's a scary world out there - and in there.
What the experts say
"When I grew up there was five minutes of news at 11 pm. Now you've got 24-hour news to let you know that an airplane has crashed or somebody got shot at school. All phobias are exaggerations of normal concerns. People who get phobias are highly intelligent, creative and sensitive. Anxiety disorders run in families. The key is learning how to deal with the ‘boo' voice. You show someone with a dog phobia a little puppy and this person is playing [an inner] scare movie about the dog lunging at him and ripping his throat out. All scare movies end in death or embarrassment. Phobias always get worse without treatment, but all are absolutely curable."
HOWARD LIEBGOLD, author, Freedom From Fear: Overcoming Anxiety, Phobias And Panic, Sacramento, California
"Finding the causes of anxiety disorders is still a work in progress. Factors may include genetics, neurobiology, perhaps certain adverse life and early developmental experiences. Many specific phobias develop in childhood, like the fear of dogs or the dark. Many children naturally outgrow these as new experiences allow them to disconfirm their fears. If people early on in life get good at avoiding the situation that makes them anxious, those phobias can persist into adulthood."
NEIL RECTOR, director of research, department of psychiatry, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto
"When a phobia is created on a conscious level, the best way to release it is going to the subconscious. I find out what happened to that little boy when he was five. The dark areas of information are blocks that I remove. I can explain, ‘This is what happened to you when you were five.' I show how you created this block because you were so limited in your information. Sometimes the cause is carried through DNA. One man was afraid of airplanes, but when I scanned the DNA, I saw that it started two generations before, when his grandfather was a soldier in World War II."
ELENA CAMARGO, shaman, Salt Lake City, Utah
"You can have an absolutely terrible, extreme fear of worms, but if you only see them every couple of years, don't think about them or worry about them, then you don't have a phobia. It's a phobia if it bothers you that you have the fear. There are different treatments for specific phobias, but they all include exposure to the feared situation. Agoraphobia and social phobias are more complex. Treatment for social phobias involves more than just exposure. It involves cognitive therapy and medications.''
MARTIN ANTONY, professor of psychology, Ryerson, author, Mastering Your Fears And Phobias, Toronto
"The phobia protocol is about desensitization. I ask a client to describe in writing 10 scenarios with the thing they fear, number 1 an encounter that doesn't scare them at all, number 10 the scariest situation. Then I have them write a paragraph about a safe place. Then we relax and introduce the scenarios, going through them until we get to number 10 while maintaining a feeling of calm."
TANYA PILLAY, certified hypnotist, Toronto
"Wear aquamarine, blue topaz or angelite, crystals that calm the nervous system. Also rose quartz because it brings the energy of unconditional love. Phobias are usually based on misunderstanding that basic concept."
BARBARA McKELL, energy and crystal healer, Guelph